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Judge denies release of 2 sex offenders, challenges overarching program

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Two individuals who have been cited as examples of the systemic issues plaguing the Minnesota Sex Offender Program will not be released or transferred to a new facility as requested, the Star Tribune reports.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank issued a 38-page ruling Monday, opting not to provide immediate relief for the individuals – 24-year-old male who never committed a crime as an adult, and a 48-year-old who is the only female at an otherwise all-male facility, MinnPost reports.

Explainer: MN Sex Offender Program

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) provides services to individuals who have been court-ordered to receive treatment.

Those people are not prisoners, but have completed their sentences and are civilly committed to the program by the courts for an undetermined amount of time. The department says there are currently about 697 clients in the MSOP, spread across two facilities: Moose Lake and St. Peter.

In order to be discharged from the program, a committed offender must petition for approval from the Supreme Court Appeal Panel. The panel considers a handful of factors when deciding whether to release or transfer someone, including a person's clinical treatment progress, the potential danger to public safety and "the need for continued institutionalization."

Only one person has been successfully discharged from the program since its creation in 1995.

But Frank did suggest there are serious systemic issues with the sex offender program. (The full ruling was posted online by MinnPost.)

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) has been the target of constant criticism in recent months, having been previously called “clearly broken” by Frank because it commits offenders indefinitely, despite their prison sentence having already been served. State lawmakers have been put under pressure to reform the program, but an effort this past legislative session stalled.

In Frank's Monday ruling, he said he will speed up a class-action lawsuit filed by 14 plaintiffs, all of whom are currently civilly committed to the MSOP. A pretrial date is set for Aug. 21, to determine the start of the trial.

'Would have likely languished for years'

Last month a group of four court-appointed experts – one each from Minnesota, Florida, New York and Wisconsin. – said the treatment of the two individuals was insufficient. They suggested the male be immediately released, because treatment for a crime committed as an adolescent is different than what's needed for an adult.

The female should be transferred from the all-male facility they said, and the state should come up with a new treatment program for her. She’s the only woman ever committed to the 19-year-old program.

In his Monday ruling, Frank acknowledged the issues facing both offenders.

The male, he said, "would likely have languished for years in the prison-like environment of MSOP-Moose Lake without any realistic hope of gaining his freedom" if the lawsuit hadn't been filed.

"And of course it is of great concern to the Court that this may not be an aberrant case of system failure but is symptomatic of a larger systemic problem of constitutional concern," he continued.

He called the treatment of the female offender "grossly inadequate – even shocking."

A state Department of Health and Human Services official told WCCO they are pleased the two individuals were not released, adding they plan to defend the constitutionality of the sex offender program.

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