Experts issue dozens of recommendations for Minn. sex offender program

Experts reviewing Minnesota's civil commitment program for sex offenders issued dozens of recommendations in a report issued Tuesday, including individual evaluations of each resident to ensure compliance with the criteria for confinement.

The panel, appointed by a federal court, also said the state's civil commitment statute should be changed to ensure it's used only for the most dangerous sex offenders who are at the highest risk to reoffend. The 108-page report also recommended that officials expedite the process to transfer the program's only female resident to another environment.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said she appreciated the review.

"We will carefully examine the report and its recommendations before deciding our next steps," she said in a statement.

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The four-person panel has been reviewing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program as part of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2011 by residents who allege it is unconstitutional because it keeps them locked up indefinitely without providing adequate treatment. More than 700 people deemed sexually dangerous or sexual psychopaths have been committed to high-security facilities in Moose Lake or St. Peter after their prison terms were completed. Only one resident has been successfully released, with provisions, since 1994.

The case has been split into two phases, with phase one scheduled for trial on Feb. 9.

The experts evaluated residents to see whether they posed a continuing danger or might be eligible for discharge or less-restrictive arrangements. They also reviewed treatment and policies at the program to see if they meet standards.

The report says the panel reviewed 191 of 721 total client charts and interviewed 39 people. The bulk of their work focused on clients in specialized programs: those who were committed for offending when they were juveniles but had no adult sex convictions; those in an assisted-living unit; and residents with mental illness or diminished intellect.

When it comes to the 62 individuals with no adult criminal convictions, the panel found that most would be eligible for discharge.

"The majority of these individuals with juvenile-only offending should not have been civilly committed in the first place and, if they had been appropriately assessed, they would not have met criteria for commitment," the report says, adding that none of those cases have been resolved.

The panel also recommends:

• Periodic evaluation of all clients;

• Pvaluation of recently admitted clients to see if they meet standards for commitment, and if they don't, officials should petition for their immediate release;

• Proactive assessments of clients to see if they are ready to petition for discharge, beginning with residents with no adult sexual offenses;

• That MSOP be allowed to move clients to a less-restrictive environment within the program without review board and appeals court panel approval; and

• Establishing a time frame for the court to make discharge decisions, as the current process can take years.

The report makes numerous recommendations for improved staff training and supervision, and says the focus of treatment should be broadened to include treatment for issues such as mental health problems or substance abuse.