Minnesota senators mull sex offender guidelines

The Minnesota Senate judiciary committee meets to discuss the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and Civil Commitment at the Capitol on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (Photo by Lisa Persson)

Legislators and state officials are considering revisions to policies regarding the way Minnesota treats sex offenders after they serve their criminal sentences.

The Senate’s Judiciary Committee met Monday to review sentencing and treatment guidelines, a system Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota court system agree needs repair.

Proponents of the changes say current policies under the Minnesota Sex Offender Program are not effective and the commitment terms are unclear.

“Nobody gets treated, and nobody gets out,” Eric Magnuson, chair of the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Advisory Task Force, said at the meeting.

Committee chairman Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said sex offenders have a more involved corrections process than other criminals in the state.

After they’re released, sex offenders can be civilly committed to MSOP for treatment that can last indefinitely, he said.

“In effect, it has become a second criminal sentence … a life sentence, and that’s unconstitutional,” Latz said.

Magnuson, who is a former state Supreme Court Chief Justice, said at the meeting that sex offenders can be committed to an MSOP facility indefinitely if they pose a “significant danger to the public” as long as MSOP is providing treatment.

He suggested prisons, where people in the MSOP serve before being civilly committed, should be improving their treatment practices for offenders, too.

Robin Benson, deputy general counsel for the Department of Human Services, told the committee Monday that the number of housed offenders in MSOP facilities has grown about 20 percent since 2008.

“There was a dramatic increase in the number of individuals being civilly committed,” Benson said.

The “surge” created space issues at the MSOP’s facility in Moose Lake, Minn., which holds about 500 people. There’s another, smaller facility in St. Peter, Minn.

Latz said community programs that reintegrate offenders are important. By focusing on those programs, the MSOP’s history of keeping civilly committed offenders would improve, he said.

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Dayton isn’t doing enough to fix the program. He said criminals that are already in the appeals process should not be released, either.

The case of convicted rapist Thomas Duvall has drawn the recent attention to the program.

Duvall has been civilly committed since 1991, but the Department of Human Services is suggesting supervised discharge, despite objections from the public.

“My job is to make sure [to] keep citizens of Minnesota safe, first and foremost, and Mr. Duvall is a threat to society, and he shouldn’t be released,” Zellers said.

Benson said the public often doesn’t understand the guidelines for provisional release, which he said comes with a high level of supervision.

Latz said legislators need to work together to find common ground — not argue and make the issue political.

“It’s not a solution,” he said. “It’s a short-term response to the fact that some persons have chosen to throw mud and political hyperbole at this, rather than engage productively.”

Legislators will review proposals in the coming weeks during committee meetings. The full Legislature will take up the issue next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Perhaps the intrepid Mr. Zellers (legislator AND announced candidate for governor) could show honesty and introduce mandatory sentences of life imprisonment, which is what he really wants. Yes, Kurt. Time to "man up" and show your worth. - by Bart Vanzetti on Sat, 11/23/2013 - 11:04am