Minnesota Law Found Unfair to Sex Offenders

     (CN) – Though Minnesota has the power to detain mentally ill citizens who pose a danger to the public, its civil-commitment laws and sex-offender programs are unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
     Kevin Scott Karsjens led the challenge as a class action in 2011 against seven senior managers of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).
     They are among 714 sex offenders whom the state has detained indefinitely under the program, and the number is expected to rise to 1,215 by 2022.
     U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank concluded last week after a six-week trial that “Minnesota’s civil commitment scheme is a punitive system that segregates and indefinitely detains a class of potentially dangerous individuals without the safeguards of the criminal justice system.”
     “The stark reality is that there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders in a program that has never fully discharged anyone committed to its detention facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter since its inception in 1994,” the June 17 decision states.
     Since a civilly committed individual is not being detained as a punishment for a specific crime, Frank said courts must “carefully scrutinize any such deprivation of an individual’s freedom to ensure that the civil commitment process is narrowly tailored so that detention is absolutely limited to a period of time necessary to achieve these narrow governmental objectives.”
     “One reason why we must be so careful about civil commitment is that it can be used by the state to segregate undesirables from society by labeling them with a mental abnormality or personality disorder,” the ruling states.
     With civilly committed people in Minnesota believing that “they might die in the facility,” detainees become demoralized and cannot progress in their treatment, The 76-page ruling states.
     “The evidence clearly establishes that hopelessness pervades the environment at the MSOP, and that there is an emotional climate of despair among the facilities’ residents, particularly among residents at the Moose Lake facility,” Frank wrote.
     Some who have been committed, including plaintiff Dennis Richard Steiner, have been in the MSOP for more than 20 years.
     It has been over a decade since the Governor’s Commission on Sex Offender Policy recommended “the transfer of the screening process of sex offenders for possible civil commitment to an independent panel and the establishment of a continuum of treatment options,” the ruling states.
     A 2011 report by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor meanwhile called for the creation of lower-cost, reasonable alternatives to commitment at high-security facilities.
     “As of July 1, 2014, the cost of confining committed individuals at the MSOP was approximately $124,465 per resident per year,” the ruling states. “This cost is at least three times the cost of incarcerating an inmate at a Minnesota correctional facility.”
     Frank calls it “undisputed that there are committed individuals who meet the criteria for reduction in custody or who no longer meet the criteria for commitment who continue to be confined at the MSOP.”
     Likewise, “it is undisputed that there are civilly committed individuals at the MSOP who could be safely placed in the community or in less restrictive facilities,” the ruling continues.
     Emphasizing that the decision represents only the first phase of the case, Judge Frank said the next step is determining what to do next.
     Rather than ordered the facilities closed, Frank called upon all interested parties to present ideas at an Aug. 10 conference preceding the remedies phase.
     “The court is hopeful that the stakeholders will fashion suitable remedies so that the Court need not consider closing the MSOP facilities or releasing a number of individuals from the MSOP with or without conditions,” Frank wrote, urging Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and state congressional leaders to appear at the conference.
     Minnesota’s law took effect after recently released sex offenders committed a series of “horrific rape and murder crimes” between 1987 and 1991 in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the ruling states.

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