Panel says sex offender program keeps some locked up too long

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As expected, a 15-member task force on Monday recommended dramatic changes for Minnesota's Sex Offender Program, which indefinitely locks up some of the state's most at-risk offenders, the Star Tribune reports.

The report says, “There is broad consensus that the current system of civil commitment of sex offenders in Minnesota captures too many people and keeps many of them too long,” the newspaper says.

At issue is a controversial practice in Minnesota of civilly committing sex offenders to two high-security facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter, where currently nearly 700 are housed. State officials note that under the law, a civil court can commit a person to the program if a judge determines that the individual is a “sexual psychopathic personality,” a “sexually dangerous person,” or both.

Some of the offenders have argued that the practice violates their constitutional rights because they have already undergone treatment and served time for their crimes. Fifty-two of the nearly 700 have not been convicted of an adult crime, the Star Tribune notes.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that an offender's challenge to the program could move forward as a class action suit.

One key recommendation Monday from the task force is that the Legislature establish an independent screening unit to determine whether a person meets certain criteria for commitment to the program, the Star Tribune reports.

The panel also recommends that the state should have responsibility for establishing the burden of proof that a sex offender is too dangerous to be released, the newspaper reports. Another recommendation: that the Legislature change the law to create a biennial review of sex offender cases, even if the offenders do not request a review.

Gov. Mark Dayton ordered lawmakers to seek solutions to the complicated problems related to the Sex Offender Program, and they are expected to carefully consider the task force's recommendations.

The program has been in the news recently because of the case of Thomas Duvall. Duvall, 58, is accused of attacking at least 60 women and was convicted of raping a 17-year-old Brooklyn Park girl at knifepoint in 1987. A special state review board in August determined that Duvall had shown enough progress in treatment to have earned a recommendation to a panel of judges that he receive a provisional release. The judges are scheduled to review the case in April.

Dayton has directed the state Department of Human Services to oppose any future recommendations that sex offenders be released, for now.

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