In a landmark ruling, a federal judge in June declared that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program unconstitutional. For the hundreds of patients currently confined to the two MSOP facilities, the decision offered some hope. The decision, however, was just the first step. It is now up to the state and the plaintiffs’ attorneys to reshape the program into what it should be.
The lawsuit, a class action filed in 2011 by MSOP patients against state officials and program employees, took a number of twists and turns over the years, though the same judge, the Hon. Donovan Frank, has handled the case since the beginning. Most of us think of class actions as personal injury lawsuits. The plaintiffs in those cases are looking for compensation from an automaker, for example, or a chemical company. This is different.
Here, the plaintiffs have been asking for the court to recognize that the laws that govern MSOP and the civil commitment process violate MSOP patients’ civil rights. They are not seeking compensation. They are seeking change.
Under current law, MSOP is a post-release program for convicted sex offenders. When a sex offender is nearing the end of his prison sentence, the Department of Corrections conducts an assessment to determine if there is a high risk that he will reoffend. If so, DOC sends his file to the county where he was convicted, and the county attorney decides whether he falls under the state’s definition of a sexually dangerous person or a sexual psychopathic personality.
At the county attorney’s discretion, then, he or she may initiate involuntary civil commitment proceedings. It is up to the county attorney to convince the court that the offender is sexually dangerous or is a sexual psychopath. If the court agrees, the offender is sent to one of the MSOP secure facilities upon his release from prison.
MSOP’s own website explains that the offender will be in the program for “an indeterminate period of time,” and this is the crux of the plaintiffs’ argument.
We’ll explain more in our next post.
Source: TwinCities.com, “Attorneys for Minnesota’s confined sex offenders propose program changes,” Tom Olsen, Aug. 19, 2015