Passing the Buck on Sex Offenders

As part of Minnesota's post-Dru Sjodin crackdown on level-three sex offenders, the Department of Corrections has implemented a more thorough case review of all sex offenders eligible to be held indefinitely in state facilities under civil commitments. (See "Portrait of a Civil Commitment," 6/9/04.) The move is good PR, but costly--and questionable--public policy. The state has neglected to come up with the money to tend to the sex offenders, and has instead decided that Minnesota counties must carry out the new policy. In other words, it's another cost from the state that will fall to local governments.

As a result, the number of cases that the Hennepin County Forensic Case Management unit will oversee next year will increase drastically. On May 18, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted to transfer $1.4 million from their contingency fund to cover increased treatment and case management services for level-three sex offenders.

As if that weren't bad enough, upon further review it turns out that the county now estimates that the total funding needed is around $2 million, which Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman explains will be distributed among many departments. For instance, a predicted increase of 86 level-three sex offender cases this year will require the county to hire three extra psychiatric social workers. That increase will also affect the Hennepin County Attorney's office, which will face heavier caseloads, and the county jail. (Also, the county has organized a group that will coordinate the different facets of treatment.) "It's tough to implement all these changes without state help," says Dorfman.

The revised state policy requires the county to hire eight additional parole officers out of its own pocket, notwithstanding the fact that earlier this year state budget cuts forced the county to decrease the number of parole officers it had monitoring released sex offenders.

During the recent legislative session, Hennepin County requested state funding to help deal with the policy changes, but state lawmakers failed to provide any additional support. So county commissioners were forced to draw on a contingency fund that exists for emergencies, such as natural disasters or other unforeseen expenditures. Tapping that fund, according to Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, sets a bad precedent. Dumping the costs of tighter sex offender monitoring on the county, he says, is "irresponsible...and a bad way to do business."

 
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