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Former chief justice to lead on changes to controversial sex offender program

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The former chief justice who led the calls for changes to Minnesota's controversial sex-offender treatment program has been chosen to lead the efforts to reform it.

The Star Tribune reports that Eric Magnuson, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, has been picked to be a "Special Master" overseeing the correction of "serious constitutional problems" at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) that were identified in a federal trial that ended last month.

In the trial, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank concluded that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) was "unconstitutional" as it kept hundreds of sex offenders confined in two high-security facilities indefinitely after they have served their prison terms – with none ever being fully released.

And with the appointment of Magnuson by Judge Frank, the Star Tribune says it is a "clear sign" that the state wants to move quickly to reform MSOP and the way it handles offenders at its treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

Magnuson had previously led a task force that recommended the program be overhauled in 2013, and according to the Duluth News Tribune will now play a "nonadversarial" role in working with the court and the state to establish changes at MSOP.

"The appointment of a Special Master in this case is necessary to coordinate the efforts of the parties," Judge Frank said, "to accommodate the public interest in achieving prompt and just solutions to the serious constitutional problems identified by the court, and to lessen the expense and strain of resources on the court and the parties in a case of this magnitude."

Something 'very wrong' with MSOP

At the end of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the 700-plus offenders currently committed to the MSOP, Judge Frank wrote: "The stark reality is that there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders."

"In light of the structure of the MSOP and the history of its operation, no one has any realistic hope of getting out of this ‘civil' detention," he added.

Judge Frank gave Minnesota's political leaders – including Gov. Mark Dayton – until August 10 to propose solutions for the issues with MSOP, MPR reports, warning that the court will impose its own solutions if the ones put forward aren't acceptable.

It will be Magnuson's job to oversee the changes approved by the court.

Magnuson served as Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court between 2008 and 2010. He is now a partner at Robins Kaplan LLC in Minneapolis. He has agreed to carry out his duties as "Special Master" free of charge.

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