Supreme Court OKs detaining sex criminals indefinitely

Minnesota's controversial Minnesota Sex Offender Program, and 19 others like it around the country, will remain unaffected by yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court  ruling, which allows the federal government to keep people locked up indefinitely if they are considered sexually dangerous, even after they have served their sentences.

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, then acting as U.S. Solicitor General, argued before the court in January that the federal power to keep dangerous sex offenders locked up is analogous to the power to keep people with dangerous diseases quarantined. Seven justices agreed with her arguments, with only Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissenting.

Although the federal case has no direct impact on state laws, it has aroused many of the same arguments surrounding the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. The MSOP is billed as cognitive-behavioral treatment to help cure sexual predators. But critics question whether the $70 million program can be considered therapeutic if none of its more than 500 patients have ever been deemed to have been sufficiently cured to be released. They say the program is locking offenders up and throwing away the key without the protections of the criminal justice system.

"If you want to keep people locked up longer, you need to change the criminal sentencing," says Chuck Samuelson, of the Minnesota ACLU, which opposes the program. "This is a perversion of the civil commitment law. The problem is there isn't the political will right now to address it."

If Minnesota's program is ever going to be reformed, the arguments for change will likely be financial instead of constitutional. "The price tag is a much more politically palatable argument," says Phil Duran, the legal director of OutFront Minnesota. "It's much easier for leaders to say that this is too expensive than it is to stand up for the rights of sex offenders."

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