June 28, 2012

POLL: Should Minnesota Overhaul Its Sex Offender Commitment Program?

6-28-2012 Minnesota:

A British court refused to extradite a man accused of sex crimes in Dakota County, on the grounds that the state's "draconian" civil commitment program. It's not the first time the program has faced criticism. What do you think?

Last week, two British justices refused to hand over Shawn Sullivan, a man accused of sexually assaulting three girls in the 1990s. Their reasoning? They argued that the Minnesota's civil commitment program is a "flagrant denial" of the defendant's human rights.

Minnesota is one of at least 20 states that allow the courts to civilly commit dangerous sex offenders following completion of their prison sentence. The decision is made by a judge, not a jury, and the term of detainment is indefinite. Once committed, sex offenders stay in high-security facilities until their treatment concludes. Once they have been "rehabilitated" they are eligible for release.

As of 2011, however, none of the hundreds committed had ever been released since the program's creation in 1994, according to a highly critical report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor. As a result, the number of sex offenders locked up in the two state facilites quadrupled in 10 years, giving Minnesota the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita in the nation.

The legislative auditor's office questioned the effectiveness of the treatment and its excessive cost—$120,000 per inmate annually, three times the cost of a typical incarceration. The report also pointed out that lack of discharged sex offenders left Minnesota open to lawsuits challenging the adequacy of the treatment program and civil rights abuses.

The authors of the report recommended that Minnesota consider using halfway houses and other less expensive, but less secure facilities, and come up with a new way of evaluating the effectiveness of treatment.

What should be done? ..Click to cast your vote: by Clare Kennedy

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