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Looming trial may push lawmakers to fix sex offender treatment program

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When Minnesota lawmakers convene in the State Capitol for their new session on Jan. 6, one of the more pressing items on their agenda will be to make changes to the state's sex offender treatment program, since a federal judge will soon rule on whether the program is unconstitutional.

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) has been the target of constant criticism in recent months, having been called “clearly broken” by U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank because it commits "dangerous" sex offenders to the treatment program indefinitely, after they've served their prison sentences.

State lawmakers have been under pressure for the past couple of years to reform the program, but an effort this past legislative session stalled. The Associated Press reports legislators may be more inclined to act this session because a class action lawsuit challenging the program will go to trial in February before Judge Frank.

At several points during the case's legal proceedings, Judge Frank has warned lawmakers that the program is on shaky legal ground and urged them to make significant changes.

Just last month, a panel of four experts appointed by Frank made 44 recommendations for sweeping changes to the program. Among them is a call for sex offenders to have annual reviews to see whether they need to be in custody anymore, the Star Tribune reports.

They said the program should be reserved for those who are “truly the most dangerous and are at highest risk to re-offend,” according to KSTP.

Currently, more than 700 sex offenders are housed in facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Only two are currently out on a provisional discharge from the program, which has been in place for 20 years, according to the Associated Press.

With Republicans taking over control of the Minnesota House in January, it's unclear whether lawmakers will act quickly on the issue or simply wait for the outcome of the trial.

Eric Janus, president of the William Mitchell College of Law, predicts the latter will happen, but he told the Associated Press he doesn't think that's a good option.

“Once a federal court decides to step in, it’s hard to regain control."

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