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Actually the MN Sex Offender Program isn't unconstitutional, court says

One court had said it was unconstitutional. This other court now says it is indeed constitutional.

The Minnesota program that confines sex offenders for indefinite periods of time with almost no chance of release is actually not unconstitutional like that judge ruled before.

That's the ruling Tuesday, which came from the U.S. Court of Appeals. But let's back up a second.

What is the Minnesota Sex Offender Program?

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program has been under fire for years now. It was basically created as an answer to the question: "What should the state do with sex offenders who serve their criminal sentence and are released from prison, but there's still a worry about their future behavior?"

What the program does is keeps those people confined in one of two facilities, at St. Peter or Moose Lake, operated by the Department of Human Services. There are currently about 725 clients, as they're called.

There are technically paths for offenders to gain a full release, but that has rarely happened in the program's history. So these clients could essentially be held indefinitely.

Why all the court rulings?

Holding these people indefinitely led to a lawsuit, filed years ago by more than 700 clients, against the state of Minnesota.

In June of 2015, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge (that's a lower court than the U.S. Court of Appeals) – meaning the program violates the clients' rights.

The decision came from Judge Donovan Frank, who wrote in part: “The stark reality is that there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders."

So what happened Tuesday?

The state opted to appeal that decision, so it moved up to a higher court, the U.S. Court of Appeals – and the opinion on that appeal is what was published Tuesday. (You can read the full opinion here.)

The bottom line is, the opinion says none of the evidence the plaintiffs provided "satisfy the conscience-shocking standard." Specifically, they didn't prove that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program's rules were "egregious, malicious, or sadistic."

So essentially, the program is constitutional. The judges then sent the case back to the district court.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services oversees the Sex Offender Program. The department's commissioner, Emily Piper, said in a statement they welcome the court's ruling in their favor.

"This program is an important tool to protect public safety and deliver court-ordered treatment to sex offenders," Piper said. "DHS will continue to meet its legal obligations to operate these services. Now it’s time for the Legislature to provide the resources we need to run this program so we can continue to keep our communities safe."

According to the Star Tribune, the attorney for the plaintiffs is considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. That has to be filed within 90 days. They could also ask the Eighth Circuit judicial bench to hear the case again, the Pioneer Press says.

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