Dayton, lawmakers hear suggested changes to sex offender law

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders received a private briefing Tuesday on several proposed changes to Minnesota Sex Offender Program that aim to reduce the number of people detained under civil commitment.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who heads a 15-member task force on the program, briefed the governor and legislators on its recent report, which calls for a reworking of the civil commitment process, now under a federal court challenge.

The recommendations include giving judges the option of sending sex offenders who have completed their sentences to less restrictive treatment programs instead of to prison-like treatment facilities where most are detained indefinitely.

Nearly 700 people who have already served prison sentences for sex crimes are confined indefinitely at state facilities in Moose Lake, Minn., and St. Peter, Minn., because courts have deemed them too dangerous to release. Although technically not prisons, the compounds are ringed with barbed wire.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann said attendees reached no conclusions about the recommendations. Hann said he'll wait to see specific proposals from the governor and DFL leaders next session.

"There's sort of agreement that what we are doing is constitutionally sound. But there are questions about how that is applied that have raised some concerns, and I think those concerns are broadly shared by republicans and Democrats," said Hann, R-Eden Prairie. "You don't want to have, for example, people incarcerated in this structure who've never committed a crime, and there are a number who are in that category."

House Speaker Paul Thissen said afterwards that he thought the meeting helped legislative leaders better understand the challenges ahead.

"Well, I think that fact that everybody showed up and sat around a table is an important first step," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "Clearly it has to be bipartisan. Everybody has expressed interest in doing something. It's just not clear what the specifics are. So, we have to continue to work with that."

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