State courts have sent more than 560 high-risk sexual predators to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program for indefinite treatment since 1995. The only person ever released was later pulled back inside for a violation and died there.
Now program officials are laying the groundwork for letting someone out, with intensive monitoring.
Since early 2008, with the approval of a judicial panel, five sex offenders have been moved outside the razor-wire fence at a state facility in St. Peter, about 70 miles southwest of Minneapolis. They have privileges such as escorted trips off campus and cooking their own food in the Community Preparation Service program, the last stop before a provisional discharge.
The offenders can ask for more freedom by petitioning the Minnesota Supreme Court for a provisional discharge. Similar petitions are routinely denied for offenders who haven't advanced as far in treatment.
It will be up to a three-judge panel appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court to determine if one of the civilly committed sex offenders in Community Preparation Service takes that next step. Also weighing in will be a special review board that looks at the offender's progress in treatment and assesses his ability to re-enter society successfully.
Releasing a sex offender, even one found to have succeeded in treatment, won't go down easy with the public.
But experts said a release could help the sex offender program by showing that it exists to treat sex offenders, not detain them indefinitely. Consultants who evaluated Minnesota's program last year said the lack of releases goes against the program's intent and hurts the morale of patients and staff.
"If you have people flowing through your treatment and some of them being released, then that makes the whole process seem more credible," said Dr. David Thornton, treatment director for Wisconsin's sexual predator treatment program, which has released or discharged more than 60 sex offenders since 1995.
Provisional discharge wouldn't mean unfettered movement for a sex offender.
Dennis Benson, who heads the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, said a provisional discharge will come with daily supervision by an agent, geographic tracking, polygraph tests and outpatient treatment requirements. Any violations would send the sex offender back into confinement. Local law enforcement officials would be kept in the loop. The surrounding community would be informed if the person were to live anywhere other than a halfway house.
State officials wouldn't release details about the five sex offenders in the Community Preparation Service program, citing medical privacy laws.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)