Sex offender releases: 'It is going to happen,' task force member says

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The spotlight of attention on the state's highly controversial – and politically charged – Minnesota Sex Offender Program will burn brighter very soon: A task force that has been studying the issue plans to announce its recommendations Dec. 1.

The panel is planning to urge dramatic changes in the state's strategy for dealing with nearly 700 civilly committed sex offenders. The current policy has been to keep them indefinitely locked up at two state facilities.

Now in a new interview with MPR News, task force member Eric Janus says some of the offenders will have to be provisionally released.

"It is going to happen," Janus, president of the William Mitchell College of Law, tells MPR. "We are not talking about a mass exodus from this program. We are talking about a slow and orderly stream of people who are prepared to exit being placed in the community."

Some of the offenders have a solid constitutional case for release, Janus says. Currently, there are 698 sex offenders locked in facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake, at a cost of roughly $73 million a year, according to the state's overview of the program.

The offenders are held under Minnesota's civil commitment law. But some allege the confinement violates their constitutional rights because it amounts to a de-facto life sentence, even though the offenders have completed both court-ordered prison sentences and treatment.

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

The program has been in the news this week again because of the hot-button 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.

But Attorney General Lori Swanson objected. And while Gov. Mark Dayton had initially sided with state health officials in supporting a review of the Duvall case, he switched course this week, directing the state Department of Human Services to oppose any future recommendations that sex offenders be released. Dayton said partisan politics were getting in the way of efforts to resolve constitutional concerns about the sex offender program. He ordered lawmakers to seek a solution.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Kurt Zellers was among those who objected to a review of Duvall's case, and Dayton had hotly responded.

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