A civilly committed sex offender will likely be Minnesota's first provisionally released to live in a halfway house. The Minnesota Department of Human Services says release may happen within 15 days.
Court records show Clarence Opheim was convicted for the criminal sexual assault of an 11-year-old boy in the 1980s. He admitted to a total of 29 victims and also struggled with alcohol abuse. Opheim pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 54 months in prison.
Opheim served his sentence and in 1993 was civilly committed as a sexually psychopathic personality to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which meant that he was to be indefinitely detained in facilities that are like prisons and offered voluntary treatment.
At that time, the Sex Offender program had been operating for one year. Since then, no one has been permanently released.
Opheim, 64, would be the first. A panel of three Ramsey County judges ruled Friday to release him after Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson decided not to oppose Opheim's provisional discharge.
The sex offender program is under Jesson's direction. The commissioner said independent evaluators have determined that Opheim has completed treatment and should be released.
"We certainly cannot minimize the harm this client has caused, the horror of his past crimes," Jesson said. "But that when someone has completed the treatment program and they can be served in a less secure environment, then provisional discharge is appropriate."
Jesson would not disclose where Opheim will maintain residence. His release comes at a time when the cost of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program has grown exponentially.
Minnesota has 635 civilly committed sex offenders. Last year the program 180 Degrees won a state contract to house civilly committed sex offenders who might be released. Officials there said the cost to the state will run about $120 dollars daily, per person, compared to more than $300 daily to house an offender at the Moose Lake or St. Peter sex offender treatment facilities.
People released from civil commitment will be supervised around the clock daily, said Dennis Benson, who runs the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. They will be in outpatient treatment, wear Global Positioning System devices to track their movement, take random drug and polygraph tests, and check in daily with a state human services case worker. A team of experts and officials will decide when an offender can move from a halfway house to a more independent living situation, Benson said.
"Because so many of these people have been confined for many, many years and we want to reintegrate them slowly, and with lots of wraparound support and supervision so that they have a shot at succeeding," he said.
A handful of civilly committed sex offenders have petitioned for provisional discharge and are near getting their requests granted. Benson said more sex offenders committed to the state program are volunteering for treatment because of the possibility of release.
That's something people should welcome, said William Lubov, attorney for Opheim.
"If we trust that there is some motivation for treatment and possibility of success of treatment, and we've got a lot of different eyes looking at it, then we should be, if not pleased, at least accepting of the notion that people are entitled to their freedom if they meet the benchmarks that the various professionals believe are appropriate and he's met those benchmarks," Lubov said.
Lubov said Opheim recognizes he will face scrutiny as the first of what could be numerous sex offenders released.