Minnesota Needs To Figure Out Why It's Indefinitely Detaining 698 Sex Offenders

Credit: foter CC BY-SACredit: foter CC BY-SAThe Minnesota Senate is holding a hearing today on how to reform the state's sex offender program. The controversial program has kept hundreds of people locked up long after their prison sentences expire.

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program is structured in such a way that shortly before a sex offender is released from prison, a judge can – with less burden of proof than is required in criminal cases – order that the offender continue to be held in a treatment facility aimed at rehabilitating them. The process is called civil commitment. “Civil” in this case means “involuntary.” Reuter's FindLaw database explains:

The commitment is intended to reduce the risk of future dangerous sexual behavior. It is not meant to serve a punishment for past crimes. Civilly committed sex offenders may be held for an indeterminate amount of time. In other words, they may be held as long as warranted to successfully treat them and to satisfy public safety concerns.

Though FindLaw describes the Minnesota law as “fairly typical,” U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank has taken a more critical approach. He is overseeing a class action lawsuit against the state and cautions that the program may be unconstitutional. Frank warned that the program is conducted in an unconstitutional manner, and that it had to be overhauled immediately or else face a potential federal takeover.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press states that “in nearly two decades since the program began, only one sex offender has been conditionally released.” Over the last decade, the number of committed individuals shot up from 200 to 698. This gives it a higher per capita detention rate than any of the other 16 states with similar programs, and makes Minnesota “the nation's leader in indefinitely detaining such offenders.” The number of detainees would be higher, but as the Wall Street Journal explains, “two dozen offenders have died while being held.”

The problem has been exacerbated by the state government's political parlaying. Several sources have noted that both Republicans and Democrats seem less concerned with treating hundreds of people justly and more concerned with protecting their own political future in case one of the criminals reoffends. Although Governor Mark Dayton (D) supported releasing certain criminals, he quickly backed off following bad press and halted any releases until the state legislature comes up with a solution. Likewise, although Sen. Warren Limmer (R), the ranking Republican on today's Senate panel, has openly criticized the civil commitment program, his party has largely opposed previous legislative attempts to change it.

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  • playa manhattan||

    Combine this with a loose definition of what qualifies as a "sex offender", and hey, what could possibly go wrong?

  • Rich||

    The commitment is intended to reduce the risk of future dangerous sexual behavior. It is not meant to serve a punishment for past crimes.

    So you see, Citizen, it's for your own good!

  • Brett L||

    Its worse than that. Why are sexual crimes different from political crimes? I guess we need to indefinitely detain anyone who has ever made threatening remarks about elected officials, too. We can't be certain they won't one day be a danger.

    This is clearly unconstitutional. The constitutional route would be to make life with parole a legal sentence for these offenses and let a jury decide whether such a sentence is appropriate in each case.

  • Rich||

    And when you think about it, why are sexual crimes different from *any* crimes? Given that you have a criminal past, you've clearly moved into a worse stage of *potential* terrorism.

  • Brett L||

    And when you think about it, why are sexual crimes different from *any* crimes?

    Agree 100%. But politicians definitely not being able to lock up their enemies has a special status in American law.

  • Rrabbit||

    Why are sexual crimes different from political crimes?

    We could infinitely detain all politicians who break their oath of office.

  • ||

    The constitutional route would be to make life with parole a legal sentence for these offenses and let a jury decide whether such a sentence is appropriate in each case.

    And then the commentariat could rail against unfair sentencing parameters and histrionic soccer-mom juries. I mean, honestly, anybody that would take away someone else's life just for forcing sex on someone is clearly worse than Hitler.

  • ||

    Exactly playa.

    When I hear 'sex offender' it really means nothing to me. Tell me exactly what the guy did. The guy who got caught peeing in the parking lot of a bar is not the same as the one raping 5 year old kids and throwing them in the river. Viewing the 19 yo who fucked his 16 yo girlfriend because she said she wanted to as a guy who attacks and forcibly rapes with a beer bottle while holding a knife to the victims throat is absurd.

    We should do away with sex offender laws and stick to rape. We view times past as more puritanical than we are now, yet the flasher back then got a slap on the wrist. Now they are either cast from society or given a life sentence.

  • Hyperion||

    Anyone arrested under these laws is serving a lifetime sentence, regardless of how long they are in actual confinement. An 18 year old girl who shares nude pictures of herself and winds up on a sex offender list, subsequently has no possibility of ever leading a normal life again.

    How the fuck are we any better as a society than the radical Islamists who stone adulterers to death? I can't really find the answer to that question anymore.

    When our spineless politicians decided that it's a good idea to let soccer moms run the country, we were all fucked at that point.

  • ||

    How the fuck are we any better as a society than the radical Islamists who stone adulterers to death?

    The fact that we don't stone adulterers to death is a small but important distinction.

    Remember, there's no law saying the 18 year old girl sharing nudie pics and the dude pissing in the parking lot necessarily have to be charged with sex crimes - you can thank overzealous prosecutors for that.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Is it me, or does that guy look a bit like Dennis Hopper? (NSFW vid)

  • Brett L||

    Let's just hope that whomever he's smiling at like that was of age to give consent and did so.

  • ||

    The process is called civil commitment. “Civil” in this case means “involuntary.”

    I'm racking my brain trying to think of a convoluted reason why 'civil' is considered the appropriate word for it.

    that the offender continue to be held in a treatment facility aimed at rehabilitating them.

    Will they be using the Ludovico technique? "I was cured alright".

  • Tonio||

    Because in law everything is either civil or criminal. Involuntary commitment is a civil matter, not a criminal one. IANAL, etc.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    That's correct.

  • Hyperion||

    We should just send them off to encampments, like lepers, lest they taint us puritans.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    I heard a rumor that the federal government did something of the sort to a bunch of people about seventy-one years ago, and that the Supreme Court held that it was consistent with the Constitution.

  • ||

    More importantly, if you let these NAMBLA-types out after a decade, will they be able to legally marry their now-grown boyfriends? That's the real concern here.

  • Brett L||

    Wasn't there a case where a female teacher-male pupil relationship started right back up after she did her time? Perhaps while he was still a minor? He might even have fathered a child on her.

  • ||

  • Brett L||

    In 1982, her father's political career was severely damaged when it was revealed that he had fathered two children out of wedlock during an affair with a former student at Santa Ana College, where he had taught political science,

    Positively Freudian. Thanks for finding that.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Every politician needs a boogeyman. Sex offenders fit the bill nicely.

  • Brett L||

    Conveniently, they can't vote against you taking even more of their rights away.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Exactly. And creating more of them only creates more fear among the populace, win-win for the fearmongers in charge.

  • Ted S.||

    And if you suggest there shouldn't be a boogeyman, they'll claim you don't care about the chidren.

  • Hyperion||

    Of course, it's always you hate the children, you don't love your country, you're a racist. I am way beyond telling every one who spouts this non-sense to go fuck their self with a cactus.

  • Dave Krueger||

    The commitment is intended to reduce the risk of future dangerous sexual behavior. It is not meant to serve a punishment for past crimes.

    Actually, no. Let's not confuse intentions with excuses.

    Basically, sex offenders are fair game. No one is going to come to their rescue, especially if you put the word "child" in there somewhere. Nope. Generally speaking, not even libertarians. The process allows the state to imprison these people after they've served their time for a very simple reason: "because they can".

    So, sex offenders make it possible for politicians to put on a "tough on crime" show knowing that practically no one will push back. Merely being accused of a sex offense is all it takes for the public to condone almost any kind of persecution. After all, being accused of a sex crime means you're less than human. You know, like blacks used to be, and homos, and Jews, and pot smokers, and Japs, and commies, and rag heads, and gooks, etc, etc. Rational treatment of sub human people like that is too good for them.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Do you have proof that the public supports stripping the due process rights of those accused of sex offenses?

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