Senators say changes are needed to sex offender program

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Some Minnesota lawmakers are searching for answers about what to do with the state's endangered sex offender treatment program.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee met on Monday in St. Paul. The committee's chairman Sen. Ron Latz said if lawmakers don't reform the program a judge could do it for them.

Latz urged lawmakers to take quick action to avoid a judge finding the program unconstitutional. The Associated Press reports that other lawmakers also said such a ruling could result in the sudden release of sex offenders the state has kept in custody because of concerns those individuals still represent a threat to re-offend.

At issue, is the state's civil commitment law. It allows the state to continue to hold offenders, even though they have completed court-ordered prison sentences and treatment. Shortly before an offender is to have completed their sentence, Minnesota law allows for a judge to order the offender held in a facility that is aimed at rehabilitating them.

Some offenders allege that confinement violates their constitutional rights because it amounts to a de-facto life sentence. During the sex offender program's 19-year history, only one offender has been released.

State senators on the Judiciary Committee are delving into the details and history of the state's practice of indefinitely holding sex offenders – currently, nearly 700 of them – locked at two facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

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 because of the recent 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. Gov. Mark Dayton has directed the state Department of Human Services to oppose any future recommendations that sex offenders be released, at least for now. Dayton ordered lawmakers to seek solutions.

The state Senate panel is meeting at the Capitol in St. Paul Monday morning.

Meanwhile, a state panel that has been examining the issue is planning next month to recommend dramatic changes to the program, including the provisional release of some offenders.

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