Some Minnesota neighborhoods may have unwelcome additions sooner rather than later.
Fifty-seven pedophiles, rapists, and other sexual predators are on the cusp of completing their final phase of incarcerated treatment and moving toward supervised release back into the community, according to Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) Executive Clinical Director Jannine Hebert in news reports.
Hebert's recent admission came as part of the state's defense in a federal lawsuit filed by a group of MSOP plaintiffs, who argue the program fails to provide a clear blueprint for release to more than 700 offenders housed in high-security facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.
The suit claims Minnesota is in the business of simply punishing offenders who have already served their prison sentences by keeping them incarcerated indefinitely under the flag of civil commitment.
Federal courts have ruled that states can confine people indefinitely in civil commitment programs for therapeutic reasons, but not for punitive ones.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, who's overseeing the MSOP case, has previously said the system is in disrepair and needs immediate reform.
The claimants cite MSOP's 20-year track record as proof.
Two offenders were provisionally discharged by the courts, one in 2012, the other in 2014. Both are currently living in community placements.
Only one other has made it out of the system. Originally let out in 2000, the offender's release was ultimately rescinded after he failed to comply with the discharge plan.
To date, the Minnesota Supreme Court Appeal Panel, the body ultimately responsible for releasing sex offenders, has not approved a single petition for a full discharge.
Dane Jorento has worked with sex offenders for more than a decade.
"After 20 years, you'd think MSOP would have a lot more people who would be ready to be let out," says the former director of ABC Mental Health Therapy, the now-closed St. Paul treatment center that worked with sex offenders suffering from mental illness. "The thing that jumps out at me isn't the 57 number, but the number in Phase III. To say they're in Phase III, that's like being a senior in college. There's a lot of these guys who have been and will continue to be seniors for a long time."
Jorento says DHS is in a tough spot. Besides being in the cross hairs of such a charged issue, the department finds itself in the corrections' business when that's not what it's built for.
"MSOP falls right in the middle between the [Department of Corrections] and DHS," says Jorento. "From best I can tell, it still doesn't have a blueprint for getting out. I think the real issue is, what's DHS's system for evaluating a client's change?"
According to DHS, the path through treatment and therapy to petition for release is unique to each case. A petitioner can file for release at any point in the program as often as every six months.
The number of offenders presently in Phase III is only ten more than there were at the same time a year ago, according to the department.
"The program's biggest problem has historically been it doesn't give the opportunity to heal, develop, and change behavior to where they learn skills where they're safe and the community is safe," says Jorento. "I don't know if that's changed."
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