Sex offenders offer proposals for changing state program

Minn. Sex Offender Program high-security facility
The Minnesota Sex Offender Program's high-security facility is located in Moose Lake, Minn.
Martiga Lohn | AP 2010

Lawyers representing hundreds of sex offenders serving civil commitments have sent a federal judge a list of changes they would like to see in Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Attorney Dan Gustafson at press conference
Attorney Dan Gustafson
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

In June, Judge Donovan Frank ruled the program unconstitutional, saying it lacks the protections of the criminal justice system. He asked both sides in the case to offer ideas to fix the program.

Among other suggestions, plaintiff's attorney Dan Gustafson asked Frank to order immediate risk evaluations of all patients and less-restrictive facilities for some.

The more than 700 offenders represented in the case also say they would submit to yearly independent reviews of whether they are a risk to the public.

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Gustafson said the judge could implement these changes even if the state appeals. "[The state] would have to ask the judge to stay the imposition of his orders pending appeal," he said. "And then if he says no to that, then they would have the opportunity to ask the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay pending appeal."

Lawyers for the state claim the program is constitutional. They've said they'll respond to the plaintiffs' proposals but will not provide their own list of suggested changes.

State Rep. Tina Liebling, who served on a task force that proposed similar fixes, said the program is costly, but needs to be effective.

"We're spending about $120,000 a year per person to put them in a treatment facility as opposed to a prison," she said. "And if we're going to do that, part of the treatment has to be looking to see if your treatment is doing what it's supposed to do."

Earlier this month, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed changes — including risk assessments every other year and less restrictive housing — which he said could cost about $20 million per year.