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Judge: sex offender program 'clearly broken'; lawsuit moves ahead

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A federal judge rejected Minnesota's request to have a lawsuit over the state's sex offender program thrown out of court.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank wrote that the program is "clearly broken" and urged Minnesota lawmakers to overhaul it, the Associated Press reports.

Under the program nearly 700 sex offenders who have been deemed dangerous by the state are committed indefinitely to high-security facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. The offenders have completed their prison terms and, as the Star Tribune notes, only one person has been successfully discharged from the program in its 19-year history.

A class action lawsuit on behalf of the offenders argues the program is unconstitutional. At least one section of Judge Frank's 75-page ruling seems to give credence to that claim. “Given the prison-like conditions described by plaintiffs, and the lack of treatment and essentially no-exit regime alleged in this case, it may well be that … the Court will find the totality of the MSOP system to be unacceptably and unconstitutionally punitive,” he wrote.

Forum News Service reports Frank also requested that each of the program's patients be interviewed, saying he needs to hear expert opinions on each before ruling in the case.

In calling on lawmakers to reform the program, Frank wrote "The time for legislative action is now." And, indeed, legislators will convene in St. Paul next week for their 2014 session.

The Dayton administration has also urged lawmakers to change the program before a court does. MPR reports Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson issued a statement that said in part: "The ruling raises questions about the future of Minnesota's civil commitment system for sex offenders, and we urge the full Legislature, on a bipartisan basis, to address this issue in the coming weeks and months."

In December a task force led by former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson issued recommendations for how to change the program. The recommendations include putting fewer offenders in the program, in part by creating less restrictive treatment alternatives.

Apart from the constitutionality of the program, some critics have pointed to its high cost. FOX 9 reports the expense to the state of maintaining the program is $73 million per year.

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