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Federal judge calls for quick action on Minnesota Sex Offender Program suit

Citing legal concerns, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank declined to take immediate action in the cases of two individuals who experts say are not receiving the proper treatment.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank wants to speed up a trial date for a class action lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), but he declined to release or move two individuals from the program who experts say are not receiving the proper treatment.

In a 38-page ruling issued Monday, Frank noted serious constitutional concerns with the program and its treatment in the individual cases of 24-year-old Eric Terhaar, one of 52 people in the program who never committed a crime as an adult, and Rhonda Bailey, 48, the only woman in the program. But Frank declined to take immediate action to change their current confinement status in MSOP’s campus in Moose Lake, citing legal concerns with providing individual relief before a hearing has been set in the class action suit.

Frank will meet with attorneys from both sides of the case on Aug. 21 to explore the possibility of setting a trial date for the class suit sometime this year.

Terhaar’s and Bailey’s cases were the first to get scrutiny last month as part of a class action lawsuit against the state on behalf of nearly 700 clients currently in its sex offender treatment program. The broader suit argues the program is administered unconstitutionally because it offers treatment without the possibility of release. Only one person has ever been provisionally released from the program in its nearly 20-year history.

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A court-appointed panel has started to review case files for each person in the program and recommended unconditional release for Terhaar, who they say is not a danger to the public and shouldn’t be confined with child molesters and serial rapists for assaults he committed before the age of 15. In the case of Bailey, the experts said its unprecedented for a state to treat a woman with all males — she should be immediately moved from MSOP or given an individualized treatment program, they said.

“It is obvious that but for this litigation, Terhaar, who was stuck with hundreds of other persons in Phase I of MSOP, would likely have languished for years in the prison-like environment of MSOP-Moose Lake without any realistic hope of gaining freedom,” the ruling read. “This concern is heightened by the experts’ opinion about the grossly inadequate — even shocking — treatment of Bailey, the lone female sex offender in the otherwise all male MSOP. The Court is also mindful of the fact that Defendants have not presented their own evidence at trial to defend the constitutionality of MSOP, and the Court is keenly aware of its responsibility not to prejudge the merits of this class action.”

In the case of Terhaar, Frank also noted that he’s in the process of being moved from the first level of treatment in the program to the final stage — Community Preparation Services, at a facility in St. Peter — before release.

“In the event that Terhaar’s petitions are not expedited, the Court will not hesitate to either set a firm time limit or take up Terhaar’s relief petition immediately after trial,” the ruling read.