Gov. Tim Pawlenty called the purchase of big flat-screen TVs for a Minnesota sex offender treatment facility "boneheaded" and said Tuesday he wants them removed, sold and replaced with smaller sets.
"They don't need 50-inch, flat-screen plasma televisions for sex offenders," the Republican governor said outside his official residence after an unrelated meeting with lawmakers.
He added: "Clearly, somebody just made a bonehead decision, and I'm going to reverse it."
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services said the 25 televisions will be removed immediately. The agency administers the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which confines offenders the courts have deemed dangerous and likely to commit new sex crimes. Nine of 10 offenders in the program have their own televisions in their rooms.
The Star Tribune first reported first reported on the large TVs, saying each one cost $1,576, plus a $706 mounting bracket. Human Services Department spokeswoman Terry Gunderson confirmed the prices and said agency officials will work with the Department of Administration to sell the TVs.
Officials are looking into who authorized the purchase and whether disciplinary action should be taken, Gunderson said.
Dennis Benson, executive director of the sex offender treatment program, told the Star Tribune the TVs have clinical value because patients can be watched to see how they respond to what's on TV. The TVs also draw patients to common areas in the 400-bed facility, making them easier to monitor with fewer employees, program officials said.
State Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said the luxurious TVs are "an embarrassment." Lawmakers approved emergency funding for the Sex Offender Program early this year without being told about the televisions, he said.
"At a time when schools are being starved and poor people are getting kicked off their medical assistance plans and hospitals are struggling and nursing homes are struggling, how do you justify 50-inch, plasma-style televisions in a facility for sex offenders?" he said.
Still, Paymar and state Rep. Alice Hausman, who heads a House panel that picks state-financed construction projects, said the issue probably won't derail the Department of Human Services' request for $96 million to expand the Moose Lake facility. The project is competing with others for inclusion in a 2010 public works bill.
Hausman, a St. Paul Democrat who toured the facility recently, said the TVs are a distraction.
"This is really a time to say, 'What is the program? Why did we move in this direction, and what are the future needs?"' she said.
Enrollment in the sex offender program is projected to double from about 500 to 1,000 in coming years, she said.
No one has ever been released from the sex offender treatment program, which costs $328 a day per patient. Enrollment has shot up since 2003, when the kidnapping and murder of college student Dru Sjodin by convicted rapist Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. led state corrections officials to refer all high-risk sex offenders to prosecutors for possible civil commitment.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)