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Judge threatens to deem Minnesota's sex offender program unconstitutional

There's no doubt that a criminal conviction can adversely impact an individual's life in numerous ways. Time spent in jail or prison takes a toll on personal relationships and a criminal conviction may interfere with an individual's ability to keep or obtain a job. In cases where an individual is accused and convicted of a sex crime, the punishment and repercussions are often magnified and endure for a lifetime.

In Minnesota, individuals convicted of sex crimes such as sexual assault or child pornography are often sentenced to serve lengthy prison sentences. Additionally, in some case, after serving out a prison sentence some sex offenders are referred to receive treatment in the state-run sex offender program. However, the ultimate purpose of Minnesota's sex offender program has recently come under scrutiny with some arguing the program does little to help or treat those admitted and functions more like a prison.

Recently a federal judge criticized the program and called upon state lawmakers to make revisions to improve how patients are treated, devise individualized treatment plans and work towards ensuring more program participants are able to graduate the program. Barring these changes, the judge announced his intentions to deem the program unconstitutional and turn it over to the courts to reform and run.

Around 700 individuals are currently in the program and since the program was established 20 years ago, only two have successfully completed treatment and been released. Some who are currently in the program have described the difficult living conditions and lack of both actual treatment and information related to expected program completion dates.

Although warned by the judge, it's doubtful that lawmakers will address the program's deficiencies anytime soon. Many members in the house and senate are up for re-election and will likely want to avoid what is certain to be a controversial and hot-button issue. We'll continue to provide information on possible reforms to Minnesota's sex offender program as Minnesota legislators and the courts work towards a finding a resolution to this issue.

Source: CBS Minnesota, "As Sex Offender Program Marches On, Rising Costs," March 15, 2014

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