Is the Minnesota Sex Offender Program constitutional?

Corrections Department, Moose Lake
Corrections Department, Moose Lake

It's a complicated case, but a simple question: What is the true purpose of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, treatment or detention?

MSOP has seen its fair share of dissent for years by those who call it unconstitutional because it involves a life sentence. Now, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank has the final say regarding what will happen to the program. Frank is presiding over the trial, which begins Monday and is expected to last several weeks. If Frank rules the program unconstitutional, changes may be in order.

Treatment or detention?

The state says treatment. The offenders suing say it's really more detention, which would likely make it unconstitutional since the 721 offenders currently committed already served their prison sentences. Minnesota has the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita among 20 states that also have these programs. Two are currently on provisional discharge under intense supervision.

"I think the facts are undeniable that this is a treatment program that people enter and enter leave until they die. That's why I think we should be honest and say this is actually life in prison," professor Peter Erlinder said.

How does MSOP stack up?

Erlinder has met with some of the offenders, and filed a brief in support of their lawsuit. In the program's 21-year-history, not a single offender has been fully released. Compare that to Wisconsin, where they've unconditionally discharged 118.

One reason Minnesota is so different is what a state audit found in 2011, that "Minnesota lacks reasonable alternatives to commitment at a high-security facility." The other reason is that politicians won't touch the sensitive issue.

The final word

The lead attorney for the offenders told Fox 9 that the state needs alternative likes halfway houses and monitored group homes for low-risk offenders but admits some should never be released. In a recent order, Frank concluded that "it is difficult for the court to understand why the parties have not resolved this case."

Ultimately, Frank himself might be the only one, to significantly reform the program.


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