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Sex offenders: Legislative inaction increases risk

A federal judge has ruled Minnesota’s sex offender law is unconstitutional and he will act forcefully to change it if the Legislature does not.

On the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, many legislators seem to be playing a game of chicken with Judge Donovan Frank.
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

A federal judge has now told Minnesota legislators, the governor and his administration that public safety will be at risk if they do nothing or delay action on correcting constitutional violations in the state’s sex offender program.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank issued an order Wednesday [Aug. 12] requiring both sides in the federal lawsuit to propose solutions to fixing the state’s sex offender law which he ruled to be unconstitutional.

“Recognizing the history of the state’s failure to meet minimum constitutional requirements, as well as the continuing injury and harm resulting from these serious violations, the Court notes that, at some point, if the state proves unwilling or incapable of remedying the constitutional violations, to which insufficient funding is not a defense, that failure may demand a more forceful solution,” Frank wrote in his order.

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The judge could not be more clear. He is going to force the state into a solution that requires the release some of these patients, who are in reality inmates imprisoned unlawfully at the sex offender facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake. The judge makes clear he believes these are serious and egregious violations of the inmates’ civil rights.

Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL-controlled Senate appear to be take the judge seriously. Minnesota GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt appears to continue to think the law is constitutional and the Legislature should wait for the judge to impose his own remedy. That is an ill-advised risk.

Dayton has proposed the remedies Judge Donovan Frank said are needed. They were the nearly same reasonable and legal remedies proposed by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, in 2013. That proposal passed with bipartisan support in committee, but later died after political gamesmanship. Sheran has had the political courage to fix a serious problem, while others in both parties have hidden behind the explosive politics of the issue. She was joined by a small number of Republicans in the Senate on these proposals.

Daudt reacted to the judge’s order with the same worrisome laissez faire attitude, saying in a statement: “As we work through this process, our number one priority has been and will continue to be protecting the public.”

One wonders if Daudt read the judge’s order, which addressed the public safety issue.

Any delay on the part of the Legislature to fix the problem “would only increase the risk to public safety,” Frank wrote. Daudt also seems to believe it’s a good idea to let the judge provide the remedy. But Frank’s order suggests that will be increasing the risk to public safety.

Many legislators seem to be playing a game of chicken with the judge. They seem to think he would not take the very serious step of outright ordering some of the most unlawfully detained sex offenders released. Those legislators should recalculate.

Releasing prisoners through a court order is not unprecedented. In California, where a court ruled the prison system was too crowded, a judge ordered the release of thousands of prisoners. The odds of that happening here seem to be rising.

Those in the Legislature who would wait seem to think the blame would fall on a federal judge. They’re not considering the reality. Federal judges don’t stand for re-election the way legislators do.

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Dayton’s plan calls for about $15 million in additional spending to implement more regular evaluations of sex offenders and establish less restrictive settings for those progressing through treatment.

The Legislature could reduce the risk to public safety the judge is speaking of by coming up with a solution first. The Dayton and Sheran proposals are reasonable and have already garnered some support.

If legislators wait for the judge to act, they will find themselves rightly blamed for increasing the risk to public safety if sex offenders are released.

Reprinted with permission.


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