Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Task force releases final recommendations to change sex offender program

Mike Mullen//December 2, 2013

Task force releases final recommendations to change sex offender program

Mike Mullen//December 2, 2013

House Speaker Paul Thissen said public safety should be the state's top priority in reconsidering the MSOP. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
House Speaker Paul Thissen said public safety should be the state’s top priority in reconsidering the MSOP. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The task force formed to deal with the state’s ongoing problem handling its treatment of sex offenders released its final recommendations on Monday. The Sex Offender Civil Commitment Task Force’s proposals would spawn significant changes in the state’s practice, including the creation of a new screening and court system to handle cases.  The state’s current approach been the subject of frequent criticism, as well as a class-action lawsuit brought by the 700-plus men currently detained in the program.

In its introduction, the task force characterizes the current system for handling people who are thought to pose a threat to the community as one that “captures too many people and keeps them too long.” The state has provisionally released only one person from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) since adopting its current civil commitment system in 1994.

The growing population of detainees has left Minnesota with the highest rate of civilly committed persons among 20 states that use the practice, despite otherwise having one of the nation’s lowest rates of incarceration.

Under the recommendations, the screening procedure for commitment would be handed over to a newly created unit of mental health professionals, who would operate outside of both the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections, and would be protected from “political interference.” The screening would review individuals’ behavior and mental health to indicate whether a particular individual “should” be recommended for commitment. That subtle change in wording would create a higher bar than the standard currently in place by the Department of Corrections, which determines whether someone’s commitment “may be appropriate.”

Other recommendations from the task force:

  • A special civil commitment court should be created to handle cases.  The court would have statewide jurisdiction, and would consist of retired judges appointed by the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
  • Those in the MSOP population should receive an automatic biennial review.  In this aspect of the process, as with the initial screening and recommendation, the person would have the right to retain a defense attorney, or be given one if he could not afford it.

The task force did not make any recommendations on changing the existing sentencing guidelines for sexually dangerous people. The recommendations also call for the handling of civil commitment proceedings to remain with county attorneys, who currently take those cases.

Created in 2012, the task force consists of a variety of high-ranking state officials and experts familiar with the topic. It was chaired by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson, who, in a Monday letter to DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, wrote that the task force wanted to “eliminate to the greatest extent possible the influence of politics on commitment, placement and release decisions.”

Gov. Mark Dayton, who recently endured criticism from political opponents over plans to transfer six program detainees to a less secure facility, welcomed Monday’s release, though he stopped short of endorsing any of its findings.

“I look forward to reviewing their report in greater detail,” Dayton said. “Then, I intend to meet with the Chief Justice and the four legislative caucus leaders to develop a bipartisan solution that ensures public safety, while fulfilling the requirements of state and federal laws.”

One of those caucus leaders soon issued a statement of his own. House Speaker Paul Thissen said ensuring public safety would be his top priority as he reviewed the document.

“Bipartisan work on this issue is the best way to accomplish a result that will work for the people of Minnesota, now and into the future,” Thissen said.

Top News

See All Top News

Legal calendar

Click here to see upcoming Minnesota events

Expert Testimony

See All Expert Testimony