Fate of Minnesota's Sex Offender Program revealed Wednesday

The fate of Minnesota's sex offender program is in the hands of a federal judge on Wednesday, opponents arguing a lifetime sentence is far too strict. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank has called the treatment program "clearly broken" and "draconian," and if he rules it unconstitutional, changes may be in order and hundreds of the state's sex offenders could be released.

What the program looks like now

MSOP has been the subject of dissent for years because it involves a life sentence at its facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter once prison sentences have been served. Minnesota has the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita among 20 states that have similar programs. Two of Minnesota's are currently on provisional discharge and under intense supervision.

The class-action lawsuit argues there are offenders who could be freed or transferred to other facilities with less stringent restrictions, but the state contends the program meets all constitutional requirements. In the program's 21-year-history, not one offender has been fully released. To compare, in Wisconsin, they've unconditionally discharged 118 since 1994.

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

Candidates for release

There are 67 potential candidates for release who have reached the final phase of treatment within the program. There are also 67 people in the program who were committed for offenses committed when they were juveniles. There are 78 over age 65, and some have diseases that have rendered them physically unlikely to re-offend, experts said during the bench trial.

Frank may ultimately order specific changes to the program rather than shutting it down completely, but his ruling could still mean freedom for many of the program's residents.