Senate panel takes up sex offender program

The chairman of a state task force on Minnesota's sex offender program told lawmakers today that a soon-to-be-released report will recommend ways to reduce the number of people locked up indefinitely by civil commitment.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson did not provide specifics to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But he said the report due Dec. 1 will propose several improvements to a system facing a federal court challenge. Magnuson said the constitutionality of the program hinges on its ability to provide treatment to sex offenders.

Magnuson warned that a federal judge will begin making changes to the program if lawmakers fail to do so next session.

"There are serious issues in how the program currently operates, and they can be summarized basically as people get in -- and maybe too many people get into the program -- and nobody gets out," he said.

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Legislators are under pressure from a federal lawsuit to retool the treatment program that has kept hundreds of sex offenders locked up indefinitely after completing their prison sentences.

"The one-size-fits-all type scenario doesn't really work. It's kind of a crude way of applying that type of treatment model to all people that are committed," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the ranking Republican on the panel. "Quite honestly, I think it's too general of a program, and now it's getting into some questions by the federal court."

Gov. Mark Dayton also called for legislative changes last week. Senate Judiciary Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said lawmakers must put politics and emotion aside to find a solution.

"If we don't do our responsibility as a Legislature to craft the policy on this that we think is best for the long term in Minnesota, then the courts are going to impose something on us that we may or may not like," Latz said.

Another Senate hearing on the issue is scheduled for mid-January.