Convicted sex offenders face notoriously harsh punishments. In fact, only one person has ever been released in the history of the 19-year-old Minnesota Sex Offender Program. A new lawsuit filed by a sex offender that was committed civilly may determine that this current system is unconstitutional. The 2011 lawsuit is yet to be resolved in federal court; in the meantime, the Minnesota Department of Human Services is starting to consider alternative correction methods that are less restrictive.
The man filing the suit is questioning the legality of the civil commitment program. He claims that the program keeps people locked up even after their prison sentence is over. A spokesperson from the Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota states that it is unlawful to jail people under the presumption that they will commit future crimes. He points to the state constitution, which indicates that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The man was originally sent to prison for sexual assaults involving children. In 1994, the courts determined that he was mentally ill and a danger to the community. He has since been back and forth between the treatment program and prison. During his time in the MSOP, he organized a group that has used billboards to communicate the cost of keeping sex offenders locked up. MSOP directors report that taxpayers do indeed spend over $81 million each year to support the 698 sex offenders currently in the program.
The man is also petitioning a court to force leaders of the MSOP to recognize his marriage. The man claims that he legally married another sex offender, also in the program, through the Iowa mail. While the man and his alleged husband are not being considered for the new, less-restrictive environments, they state that they will continue to fight against the MSOP.
It’s arguable whether or not people convicted of sex crimes should be kept in confinement even after their prison term is over. Regardless of the severity of their original crime, however, there’s no question that imprisoning a person for something they may do in the future is a violation of civil liberties.