Dayton floats possible changes to criticized MN sex offender program

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After a closed-door meeting to talk about the future of the beleaguered Minnesota Sex Offender Program, Gov. Mark Dayton floated possible recommendations for fixes – but they'll cost the state millions of dollars.

Dayton was part of a group of elected officials and lawmakers that met Monday morning for three hours to discuss possible ways to fix the sex offender program. That's the state’s system for treating offenders deemed in need of further treatment that, in June, was ruled unconstitutional.

The conference was called by Judge Donovan Frank, who in his ruling wrote: “The stark reality is that there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders.” (Click here for more on the background of Monday's meeting.)

After the meeting Monday, Dayton reiterated in a news release his previous stance that he disagrees with the judge's ruling, saying they're looking to appeal.

"I take most seriously my obligation to uphold the right of every Minnesotan to be secure and protected," he said in the release. "I will not abdicate my constitutional responsibility to protect the people of Minnesota by agreeing to any changes to the Minnesota Sex Offenders Program that would put innocent people in harm’s way."

Frank, Dayton, top legislative leaders Tom Bakk and Kurt Daudt, Attorney General Lori Swanson and others were at Monday's meeting, which was closed to the public and media.

The Associated Press said there wasn't much agreement on how to go forward after the meeting.

According to the Pioneer Press, Dayton said Frank wanted changes before next year's normal legislative session, meaning a special session might end up being considered.

Dayton's recommendations

Dayton claims in the news release he has recommended fixes to the program. But they're costly, and he argues he hasn't gotten enough legislative support to make them happen.

Dayton says he asked for biennial evaluations for all current and future clients, including at the two main facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter, totaling $7 million a year. There's also the construction of new facilities for patients that don't need the same restrictions, and also require some medical help.

The spending needed for these new facilities? $10-$15 million a year in construction and annual operating costs for each of the three programs. Some of that could come from the closure of the current buildings.

Whether those changes would be enough for Frank isn't known, the Star Tribune notes.

As of July 1, the Department of Human Services said there were 720 offenders in the program.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by confined offenders – all of whom have completed their prison sentence. They argued the program locks people up indefinitely with little-to-no chance at getting out. In fact, only three have been provisionally released in the 20 years it has been running. None have been fully released.

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