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The MN Sex Offender Program: Where do things go from here?

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The Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program is unconstitutional. That question was cleared up by a judge Wednesday.

It sounds like a simple yes or no – is it constitutional or unconstitutional?

But the logistical reality of where things go from here is far less binary, and instead depends on a host of different potential variables.

When will the program change?

Not right away.

In the ruling, posted online by the ACLU, the judge wrote the public shouldn't expect the facilities at Moose Lake and St. Peter to close immediately.

"This case has never been about the immediate release of any single committed individual or committed individuals,"Judge Donovan Frank wrote. (Frank, by the way, is from Spring Valley, Minnesota. The Pioneer Press profiled his career, and even a bit of his personal life.)

A provisional date of Aug. 10 has been set for more court proceedings “to fashion suitable remedies” to MSOP’s problems.

Of course, some of the offenders disagree with that.

KARE 11 spoke with two clients in the program – one for 24 years after molesting multiple boys, the other in for eight years after assaulting young girls when he was 15. Both told the station they plan to ask for an immediate release.

Gov. Mark Dayton was in no hurry to make such a move either, saying after the rulling he believes the MSOP and civil commitment are constitutional, and they will work with the Attorney General to defend the law.

Reaction from those in the program

There are currently 715 offenders committed to MSOP facilities, all of whom were part of the lawsuit against the state.

Those enrolled in the MSOP are not prisoners. They are sex offenders who have served their sentences in prison and, after an evaluation, are deemed to require further treatment. They are then civilly committed to receive that treatment through the MSOP at two high-security facilities – in Moose Lake or St. Peter – for an “indefinite” period of time.

Only three people have been released from the program in its 20 years, and even then only provisionally.

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Northland's NewsCenter spoke with offenders at the Moose Lake facility. One of the men, Brandon Benson, described the treatment program as being "stuck," with no real beginning or end. He said he was glad someone stepped up to be on their side.

Said another offender, Clarence Washington: “I think around here they have used the term treatment very loosely and I do not believe they have lived up to what treatment officially is.”

Public perception

KSTP traveled to Le Center, Minnesota, and spoke with neighbors of Robert Jeno – one of the three men ever to be released from the program.

Jeno can't leave his property without supervision while he's on early supervised released, but residents told the station – while nothing's happened – his presence does make them uneasy.

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Politically, that's one of the hurdles.

MinnPost's Briana Bierschbach points out lawmakers knew months ago the unconstitutional ruling was likely – yet during the 2015 legislative session didn't proactively address the issue.

Dan Gustafson, who represented the MSOP patients, put it this way: “Who wants to be the first person to stand up and say I’m in favor of releasing sex offenders?” he told MinnPost. “There’s just no reason why any political leader would do that.”

Possible remedies

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the current belief of "punishment-based approach" is becoming outdated.

John LaFond, author of "Preventing Sexual Violence: How Society Should Cope With Sex Offenders," told the American Psychological Association that psychologists are becoming more confident sex offenders can be helped outside of incarceration, the article says.

In 2013, Time spoke with Massachusetts-based researcher Dr. Renee Sorrentino, who said a drug meant to stifle certain urges in pedophiles (called Lupron) has shown to be effective.

And a 2007 Swedish study found sex offenders were significantly more likely to suffer from a mental illness – something that, if identified and treated at the core, could prevent offenders from repeating their crimes, the lead author said, according to Reuters.

Caroline Palmer, with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said whatever happens, the post-confinement support is key, MPR News reports.

"We want to make sure that rehabilitation is a really big part of this conversation for sex offenders," she said. "We want to see a system that works well for offenders because if they are coming back into the community, they pose a risk if they don't have support that can help them succeed as a productive member of society."

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