Minnesota legislators reconsider sex offender program in 2013

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program confines and treats high-risk offenders after they have completed their prison sentences. Politics in Minnesota reports that the state has the highest per-capita rate of civil commitments in the country, with more than 650 men currently enrolled in the program. Only two individuals have been discharged from the program over the past two decades. According to The Mankato Free Press, sex offenders are confined to high-security treatment facilities at an annual cost of approximately $120,000 per offender.

However, in December 2012, a federal judge convened a special task force and ordered lawmakers to look at alternatives to Minnesota’s costly sex offender program, asking them to consider less restrictive regional treatment facilities. The federal judge issued the Order in a class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the conditions of confinement for individuals enrolled in the program.

Due to the order, the legislature will have to examine how to reduce costs for treating sex offenders while protecting the public while preserving offenders’ constitutional rights. The civil commitment task force is expecting the Minnesota Legislature to take action this month.

Some lawmakers warn that efforts to reform the state’s civil commitment program may be challenging. Developing alternatives to confinement is extremely costly. Despite these concerns, many believe that the threat of federal intervention should provide the state motivation to make progress on the issue.

Last year, the Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report that criticized the state’s civil commitment program for providing disparate outcomes for individuals and inadequate treatment to clients. Therefore, in addition to pursing less restrictive alternatives to civil commitment, the panel has also been ordered to examine the general sex offender civil commitment referral process and ways in which individuals who are already detained can have their supervision reduced.
In spite of this, sources suggest that creating less restrictive alternatives to civil commitment will prove to be the most challenging. The Minnesota Human Services Coordinator explains, “The problem with civil commitment is it’s all or nothing” She adds, “You’re either in this expensive high-security facility or you are not. I think that is a quandary.”

As expected, prosecutors have typically erred on the side of caution, opting for high-security measures. Even so, the state will be forced to examine the matter this legislative session.

If you have been charged with a sex crime, you should contact an experienced Minnesota criminal law attorney. Civil commitment can be a consequence of a sex crime conviction above and beyond any criminal penalties imposed; a strong legal defense gives you the best odds of retaining your freedom. Speak with a defense lawyer today for help in assessing and preparing your case.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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