“Do the crime, do the time” is a staple of American criminal justice. So, the concept of confining people beyond the length of their sentence is unsettling. In Minnesota, “civil confinement” is mandated where someone is considered a public danger and unable to act within the constraints of the law. It was used to keep people inside psychiatric hospitals in the first half of the 20th century and it is used today to keep sex offenders behind bars.
For a “civil confinement” program to be constitutional, it must focus on treating the sex offender to eventually reintegrate them into society, rather than on punishment. It is a fine line. Far too often the offender can’t be “cured” of his compulsions and remains confined indefinitely.
Turning to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (or “MSOP”), most people never graduate that is until Mr. Oliver D. He was convicted of raping two women in 1995 and spent 14 years behind bars. In 2009 his sentence was up and he was transferred to the MSOP for treatment. The MSOP was established in 1995 as a way to treat sex offenders of their compulsions, to reintegrate them into society.
The program’s requirements are so strict that very few ever graduate. The inmates are constantly monitored and in a very structured environment, making it easy to fail. But Mr. Oliver D. steadily advanced through the program and never relapsed. He is only the fourth person to graduate and he did it in only a few years. To compare there are more than 700 people committed in the MSOP, some of which have been there for over 20 years.
The program is being challenged by numerous inmates as being unconstitutional. The Minnesota government counters that the Constitution does not require a treatment strategy that guarantees eventual release. The inmates were successful in the District Court and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal will hear arguments later this year.
Mr. Oliver D. will not have an easy time on the outside as he is under intense supervision, has strict reporting requirements and is still on the Sex Offender Registry. If he fails to comply with any of these requirements he could be immediately sent back into the MSOP for additional “treatment.”