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Risk grows in sex-offender program

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Judge Donovan Frank is viewing the entire MSOP system as one that would not pass constitutional muster.

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

In another reminder of Minnesota’s flawed policy on sex offenders, a federal judge raised clear doubts about the constitutionality of the entire program even though he ruled to prohibit immediate release of two offenders.

Judge Donovan Frank ruled last week that two sex offenders who are part of a class action suit would not be immediately released and the petition of their lawyers was denied.

But Frank’s opinion was heavy with suggestions that the Minnesota program is unconstitutional and he moved to speed up the trial date of the class action suit brought on behalf of numerous offenders.

Some Minnesota legislators said this wouldn’t happen — that a federal judge would never want the release of sex offenders on his watch. But that assurance seems iffy at best now. Some legislators used that as a reason for not acting on real reform.

But at least one expert told the Star Tribune that the judge’s ruling is more of a threat to the state than releasing the two offenders. The judge is viewing the entire system as one that would not pass constitutional muster.

Frank cited two reports in his ruling, one from a special panel appointed by the court to review the system and the other by the Legislative auditor’s office. Frank said in his ruling that the task force has concluded that there is “broad consensus that the current system of civil commitment of sex offenders in Minnesota captures too many people and keeps too many of them too long,” according to a report in the Star Tribune. In past rulings he has described the system as “broken.”

Democrats and Republicans continue to argue about the policy at the Legislature, and Democrats put out a reform proposal in the past couple of years. It passed the Senate with Republican votes but didn’t pass muster in the House where Democratic leaders did not want to pass it without bipartisan support. They argued passing their own reform would make them targets for unfair campaign rhetoric, and they’re probably right.

Republican legislators say they have ideas on reform that majority Democrats don’t seem to want to embrace. Others have pushed the idea of longer prison sentences for sex offenders, something that might also be challenged constitutionally.

But it’s becoming more and more clear that Minnesota legislators will have to do something, and do it sooner than later, to prevent the wholesale rejection of the sex offender law’s constitutionality.

Reprinted with permission.

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