Court poised to take over Minn. Sex Offender Program, says task force member

Minnesota lawmakers this session did not act on a task force's recommendations to reform the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, and one task force member believes the federal court will take control of the state program and make changes.

The program has locked up about 700 sex offenders after their prison sentences have been completed, people deemed too dangerous to release, task force member Eric Janus told the MPR News program The Daily Circuit.

The program is about 20 years old and it's grown because almost no one has been released, he said. A class-action lawsuit has gone to federal court, challenging the constitutionality of the program. It's up to the court to decide if the program is constitutional.

Janus, president of St. Paul's William Mitchell College of Law, thinks the federal court will move with "deliberate speed" to take control of the program and make changes. "There are some key pieces that have to fall into place to bring this program even into a semblance of constitutionality," he said.

The court, he added, may look into community supervision for the patients in the treatment facility or program at the lowest risk of re-offending — the elderly, the sick, and the young — and then impose requirements on the state and carefully monitor compliance.

Janus said he doesn't think the judge would release all 700 people, although the court could view the Legislature's inaction very negatively, a "very deliberate challenge to the authority of the federal court, and very deliberate failure to undertake constitutional responsibilities."

Minnesota has the highest per-capita commitment of any other states in the country, Janus said, partly because there's not a clear definition of who is "highly likely" to reoffend.

"What is involved is an attempt to predict future behavior, and then lock people up, not in punishment for a past crime, but in order to prevent a predicted future crime. And that's very problematic," Janus said.

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