More money needed to reform Minnesota sex offender program, trial hears

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Minnesota's controversial sex offender program is being reformed, the state human's services chief says, but a lack of funding is restricting broader changes being made.

A landmark federal lawsuit to determine whether the program is unconstitutional got underway this week, in a case brought by more than 700 inmates of the state's two sex offender facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

State human services commissioner Lucinda Jesson took the stand Friday, the Star Tribune reports, and said that her tenure in charge has resulted in changes that have improved outcomes for sex offenders, but that she will need help from the legislature to effect further change.

According to the Pioneer Press, Jesson said her department would need more money to fund the bigger changes required, such as more open facilities for certain patients.

Under the program, offenders are civilly committed to receive treatment at one of the two facilities after serving their prison sentences, but the vast majority of them have been kept in the program indefinitely, with only three being released from it in the last 20 years.

Attorney Dan Gustafson, for the plaintiffs, said Minnesota is not following the constitution by confining people indefinitely in "prison-like" treatment centers, the Pioneer Press notes.

Jesson was "grilled" by Gustafson on the stand, according to MPR, who accused her of taking too long to act upon recommendations for changes to the program made by a state task force.

In response, she admitted: "It took too long."

The trial is expected to take over a month and could determine the future of the program.

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