The Minnesota Sex Offender Program: What to know about today's meeting


Monday morning, a conference that could help determine the future of the beleaguered Minnesota Sex Offender Program will take place in federal court.

Here's a brief explanation about why it's happening, and how we got to this point.

What's the meeting for?

At the meeting, Gov. Mark Dayton, Judge Donovan Frank, Attorney General Lori Swanson, Republican and DFL lawmakers and others will discuss possible ways to fix the sex offender program – the state's system for treating offenders deemed in need of further treatment.

Why is the meeting being held?

There's a long, winding backstory to all of this, but basically, the state's sex offender program was ruled unconstitutional in June, after a lawsuit was filed by the more than 700 offenders currently confined in the program. They argued the program was unconstitutional.

And Frank, in the June ruling, agreed.

Monday's conference is a direct result of that ruling, and former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who led the calls for the program's reform, will oversee the potential changes.

Dayton, even after the program was ruled unconstitutional, continued to defend the program.

And what's unconstitutional about it?

Frank ruled the program is unconstitutional because it keeps offenders who completed their prison sentence locked up indefinitely, with little empirical evidence they have the chance to get out.

In fact, of the hundreds of offenders confined to the two facilities (in Moose Lake and St. Peter), only three have been provisionally released in the 20 years it has been running. None have been fully released.

OK, so this meeting: Can I go and weigh in?

No, it's not open to the public. Nor is it open to media organizations, despite a request from the Star Tribune, The Associated Press, New York Times and other outlets arguing it should be.

Frank said the closed conference will allow for freer discussions, and noted there won't be a final decision made Monday. Participants are allowed to talk about it publicly afterward, however.

What comes next?

Probably a lot more talking.

The Associated Press notes the discussions, part of a "remedy phase," could continue for weeks or months, unless a settlement is reached at some point. It also notes the eventual ruling could pave the way for programs in other states to be challenged.

Have they tried to make changes before?

Minnesota’s legal leaders, including Magnuson and Frank, have over the past two years urged state lawmakers to restructure the program.

But the reforms haven't come, with state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson previously saying her department had started making changes, but full reforms are proving difficult because of a lack of funding.

The Associated Press reports Dayton proposed a measure in the latest budget bill to at least begin addressing the judge's concerns, but it got pushed aside during negotiations late in the budget process.

Critics have also pointed to the financial cost to running the program in its current form, with FOX 9 previously reporting it costs the state $73 million per year.

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