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Residents pack meeting as township prepares for offender's rare release from MSOP

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Concerned residents packed into a small church in rural Olmsted County seeking reassurances about the arrival of a man set to become only the fourth ever to secure provisional release from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

A public meeting was held giving those living in Rock Dell Township the chance to ask questions of state and county officials regarding 68-year-old Benjamin Gissendanner, who will move to the township some time next month, ABC 6 reports.

He was convicted in 1982 of breaking into a woman's home in St. Paul and sexually assaulting her, as well as having a prior conviction for a similar crime in New York state.

But MSOP executive director Nancy Johnston told the crowd that a lot of thought went into where Gissendanner could move and it was selected because he has a lack of ties to the area.

"I've come to the conclusion that this is a great placement for Ben," Mark Ostrem of Olmsted County Attorney's Office said, according to ABC 6. "That he's going to move into this location and into our community and we're probably not going to see or hear too much more after tonight."

Offender's movement to be strictly monitored

Gissendanner will be released from the MSOP treatment center in St. Peter, but the crowded church was told that he will be strictly monitored once he arrives in the township, according to KIMT, after concerns were raised about how much he'll be able to move around town.

The meeting was told there will be no limits on how far he'll be able to travel from his home, but he will be monitored 24/7 by an ankle bracelet and will always be accompanied by a staff member. His schedule will also be planned out on a weekly basis and any activities "will be considered on a case-by-case basis."

The information provided seems to have placated local resident Mike Meyers, who told KTTC: "The questions were answered, so I think it puts the community at ease that this is a safe place for this person to enter and stay out of trouble."

Gissendanner, who has learning and cognitive disabilities, will move into an adapted REM Minnesota home.

WCCO reports Rock Dell Township already has three other offenders living in an adult home in the area, and officials say they have caused no problems.

The news station added that Gissendanner will undergo regular drug and alcohol testing while living in Rock Dell.

His release comes amid discussions over the future of MSOP, which was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, who said the program offers inmates little to no hope of ever being released from the high-security treatment centers in St. Peter and Moose Lake and is in urgent need of reform.

Frank has given state officials until Sept. 21 to file proposed fixes to the program.

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