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Lawmakers consider changes to sex offender treatment program

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State lawmakers appear to be more ready to make major changes to Minnesota's controversial sex-offender treatment program.

The Star Tribune reports at a Senate hearing on Wednesday lawmakers appeared supportive of making major reforms recommended last month by a state-appointed panel of judges.

During a hearing of the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-St. Paul, said, "Inaction is not an option. There is a consequence to inaction. It may create a program that no one may like if the federal court is the instrument."

A lawsuit is threatening to have the state's sex offender treatment program declared unconstitutional. The Star Tribune reports the judge is expected to rule in the case by Feb. 16. He heard arguments on the suit last month.

About 700 sex offenders are being held in the high-security treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter, but only a few have ever been released.

The lawsuit alleges the system is a "defacto life sentence."

Members of the committee heard from the Minnesota Sex Offender Commitment Advisory Task Force on Wednesday. The chair of that group is former Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson.

The proposed reforms include treating sex offenders in the prison system rather than confining them indefinitely to the costly high-security treatment program and having retired judges help decide on the release of offenders.

Magnuson said the Task Force believes politics should be kept out of decisions involving civil commitments and releases, according to KARE 11. Magnuson said the task force recommends a panel of retired judges should make the decisions, "insulated" from local pressure.

"We have great faith in the judges of Minnesota," said Magnuson. "They work hard. They take their job seriously, but they may not see many of these cases."

The task force also recommends creating an independent professional group to develop and implement an assessment process to evaluate sex offenders who might qualify for civil commitment and to give judges the option of sending sex offenders to less restrictive treatment programs.

Magnuson told KARE, "What changes, in either procedure or law, the Legislature should contemplate so that someone does not receive what today has become a defacto life sentence when they are civilly committed. People simply do not get out."

The issue is expected to be one of the top issues during the legislative session, which begins next month.

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