High-level sex offenders to be released for first time

Moose Lake Correctional Facility
This facility in Moose Lake, Minn., houses the state's sex offender treatment program.
Photo Courtesy of the Department of Human Services

It's likely that judges will soon pave the way for Minnesota's first release of civilly-committed sex offenders.

State officials say it's possible as many as nine people a year may be released. Before the men get out, the state has to develop housing and residential programs. Minnesota officials have requested proposals for programs that could be in place by October.

Sex offenders are released from prisons into the community regularly. Dan Cain, president of the RS Eden Services program for sex offenders in north Minneapolis, said people released from civil commitment are different. They are all level-three sex offenders who've committed some of the most violent crimes.

YEARS OF THERAPY

However, Cain said they've also had years of therapy.

"There's as much assurance that you can get that these people have the highest level of supervision in the community," Cain said. "Now having said that, the business that we're in is risk management.

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"And there's no one, despite what becomes the rhetoric in a lot of political campaigns, that can promise risk elimination ... somewhere down the line there will be a situation that will cause some to raise their eyebrows and say 'Why was this person in the community?'"

Cain said the only people who'll be able to answer that question are the judges who release people from civil commitment. Since the state put its civil commitment program in place in 1995, only one person has ever been released and that person was quickly brought back in.

Cain said it's just a matter of time.

Civil commitment allows judges to hold offenders indefinitely even after they've served their sentences. Treatment is voluntary.

But the state faces legal challenges from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union that say the Moose Lake sex offender treatment facility -- with its barbed-wire-topped fences and guard towers -- is more like a prison. Other lawsuits assert the constitution doesn't allow the state to hold people after they've served their sentences.

In April, Minnesota Public Radio spoke with Wallace Beaulieu, who served time for a sex offense and was then committed to Moose Lake. He said he opted out of treatment because there seemed to be no point to it.

"We've cleared the books with the state. If they wanted us to do treatment and be productive members of society, they have to give us a mechanism to do that," Beaulieu said. "They have to give us some hope that there's ever going to be a person that ever goes home."

Minnesota officials anticipate a judge will soon approve a release. Five unidentified men are nearing the end of their treatment program.

HIGH LEVEL OF SUPERVISION

The Minnesota Department of Human Services, which runs the state's sex offender program, declined a request for an interview. But in documents, it says once the men are released to a residential facility, a state case manager will have daily face-to-face contact with them for at least a month, and will accompany them on any public trips.

Released men will wear GPS devices and take regular polygraph tests while living in a residential facility. Officials say they have the authority to revoke a release if an ex-offender violates the terms of their discharge or shows signs of relapse.

"Everybody's got to live someplace," said Chris Gans, an organizer with a central Minneapolis neighborhood group. [But] the impact to the larger community needs to be considered as well."

Gans said his only concern is a possible concentration of sex offenders.

"I haven't seen any of the research on it, but there is a concern that concentration of like-minded individuals in any particular area can just create some larger instabilities," Gans said.

But moving people out of civil commitment into the community will also solve some problems. The state sex offender treatment program is running out of beds for its quickly growing population.

In 2003, there were about 200 men who were civilly committed; now there are 575. It costs about $330 a day to keep someone in Moose Lake, compared with $89 for a day in jail.