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Judge may order reforms to Minn. sex offender treatment program

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A federal judge will decide within 30 days how to respond to the state of Minnesota's inaction so far on changes to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which the judge ruled in June was unconstitutional.

Judge Donovan Frank had set a Sept. 21 deadline for state officials to submit their proposals to fix the program, and a court hearing Wednesday was meant to review those plans.

But state officials haven't submitted any plans to change it because they disagree with the judge's ruling, according to the Forum News Service.

The MSOP was set up to treat sex offenders after they've served their prison sentences, so they can eventually be released into the community. But over the 20 years the program has been in place, only three offenders have been provisionally released and none have been fully released.

The offenders argued in their lawsuit that the program amounts to a life sentence, and Judge Frank agreed with them when he ruled in June that the MSOP was unconstitutional.

As of July 1, the Department of Human Services said there were 720 offenders housed at the program's facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs last month submitted 18 proposals for changes to the program, including annual evaluations of patients to see whether they need to stay in the program, or if they can be moved to lower-security facilities.

During the Wednesday hearing, the plaintiffs' attorney Dan Gustafson asked Judge Frank to order the state to make some of those changes, the Star Tribune reports.

The judge said last month that failure by the state to act on its own "may demand a more forceful solution," although it's not likely he would order the state to shut down the program completely.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson argued her department is making changes to the program but it will take action from the Legislature, as well as time and money, to accomplish.

Jesson also made clear the state is ready to appeal Frank's order when he issues it next month.

The state has no grounds to file an appeal until the judge orders the state to take specific action, the Forum News Service explains.

If that happens, any changes to the program would be put on hold until the case plays out in court, which could take a couple of years.

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