Judge in sex offender case warns of 'forceful solution'

Minn. Sex Offender Program high-security facility
This April 19, 2010 file photo shows the Minnesota Sex Offender Program's high-security facility in Moose Lake, Minn.
Martiga Lohn | AP 2010

A federal judge who ruled that Minnesota's sex offender program is unconstitutional warned state leaders Wednesday that he may resort to a "more forceful solution" if they don't prove willing to fix the program on their own.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank issued his strongly worded order two days after a private hearing with top officials about changing the confinement program. As part of Wednesday's order, he scheduled a public court hearing on Sept. 30 and asked parties to the legal case to come with remedy proposals.

"Recognizing the history of the state's failure to meet minimum constitutional requirements, as well as the continuing injury and harm resulting from serious violations, the court notes that, at some point, if the state proves unwilling or incapable of remedying the constitutional violations, to which insufficient funding is not a defense, that failure may demand a more forceful solution," Frank wrote.

More than 700 offenders deemed sexually dangerous are being held indefinitely in secure treatment facilities. Frank ruled in June in a class-action lawsuit that the program is flawed, but stopped short of ordering that offenders be let loose or requiring specific changes, hoping the decision would spur settlement discussions.

Lawmakers, including Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, maintain the program is legal and are waiting for an opportunity to appeal. Continued resistance, Frank wrote Wednesday, could put the program and public safety at risk.

Dayton offered a couple of proposals Monday, including regular evaluations of sex offenders in the program and less-restrictive settings for those who are advancing in treatment, have cognitive limitations or are elderly. He said the changes could add $20 million per year in program costs and would require legislative signoff.

The governor's office said it was reviewing the judge's latest order.

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said after the judge's conference on Monday court proceedings need to play out before the Legislature takes any action.

"We agree with Attorney General Swanson that this program is constitutional and support her decision to appeal the judge's ruling. As we work through this process, our number one priority has been and will continue to be protecting the public," Daudt said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

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