A proposed $89 million expansion of the state’s sex offender facility in Moose Lake is the largest item on Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s bonding bill request.
That’s the place where the state’s most dangerous sexual predators are treated after they’ve finished serving their prison sentences. But after 20 years, the program has failed to successfully rehabilitate and release anyone, says Finance and Commerce in a look at the proposal.
The expansion would increase capacity at the Moose Lake facility by 400 beds.
Dennis Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, told legislators:
“These are critical needs, because we really are compelled to treat these people. We are required to treat anybody who wants treatment. Given our current situation, we simply don’t have adequate treatment rooms.”
Finance and Commerce notes:
In 2003 there were fewer than 200 people civilly committed as sex offenders. Now that population is nearing 600. By 2016, according to projections by the Department of Human Services, which runs the MSOP, the number of involuntary commitments is slated to approach 1,000. In fact, Minnesota now has, per capita, the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders in the country.
Many legislators are frustrated at continuing to pour money into a program that has established no track record of success. The expenditures are particularly galling given the immense pressures on the DHS budget. Legislators from both parties are currently struggling to create a viable replacement for the General Assistance Medical Care program for indigent adults, which was eliminated by Pawlenty last year as part of budget cuts.
“I have to say I feel very, very troubled by this request,” Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said at a recent hearing about the facility. “The need here is not an act of God. The need here is a result of state policies … This is not where I want to be spending the state’s money. I really don’t. I want to be building colleges. I want to be building health care facilities.”
Ultimately, politics may prevail:
Few politicians are willing to invest much time or political capital in pushing for more violent sexual deviants to be released from secure facilities. The $89 million Moose Lake facility expansion is the top bonding priority of DHS. And the DFL-controlled Legislature is expected to pass a capital investment bill at least $300 million heftier than Pawlenty’s proposed package. In other words, the new sex offender facility is likely to be in the final package, no matter what the criticisms.
But Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, figures it might become a bargaining chip for DFL leaders looking to get a few more of their priority projects into the bill. “I don’t think anything is a done deal,” he says. “It may well be that the governor may have to fight for it. The bonding process is quite a dance.”