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Continued: Oct. 20: Facing lawsuit, Minnesota asks: When are sex offenders safe for release?

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 2, 2013 - 10:04 PM

“We need to build more of a continuum [of care] for sex-offender treatment,” Jesson said in an interview. Currently, she said, the state has just two options: House offenders in prisonlike buildings surrounded by razor wire or set them free.

Gustafson credits Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration for trying, but says its efforts are “much too little and too slow.” Yet he can understand the challenge. “For the most part, the people at Moose Lake are people that would shock you if you looked at their files,” he said.

‘Why us?’

State officials got a taste of public sentiment at two well-attended hearings Sept. 30 in Cambridge, where they hope to transfer a dozen disabled, frail or elderly offenders early next year.

“In Cambridge, I heard, ‘Why here? Why us? Why now?’ ” said Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry. The answer to the first question was simple, she said. The state owns the property, a treatment facility that has served various populations for years. The answer to the second, she said, is that Cambridge is just first in line.

“We’re going to see the courts issuing provisional discharges,” she predicted.

Barry also acknowledges that the offenders’ lawsuit raises serious concerns.

“How is it that a population that has served their time and is now in treatment — in some cases for decades — never gets out? It gets to every right we have under the Constitution.”

Which leaves Cambridge residents asking crucial questions: Can sex offenders ever be cured? And how will the state protect the public?

Elizabeth Barbo, the MSOP’s reintegration director, responded this way: Sex offenders can’t be cured, but their behavior can be managed with intensive treatment and supervision.

Grant Duwe, a researcher for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, has spearheaded the development of a sophisticated screening tool, which he says has proved largely accurate in predicting recidivism by sex offenders. Duwe said that, overall, sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than most other felons. Their recidivism rates, he said, are small and have been going down because of better treatment and longer sentences and supervision.

In a peer-reviewed study, Duwe’s screening tool predicted a four-year reconviction rate of just 3.5 percent for 1,653 sex offenders who had been released from prison; 2.8 percent actually reoffended. It predicted a reconviction rate of 5.6 percent for 261 offenders who were recommended for commitment but were ultimately rejected; 6.5 percent reoffended. The tool predicted that 9.2 percent of the 105 offenders who are in the MSOP would have reoffended in four years. Duwe extrapolated those figures over 50 years.

“At most, we would estimate that about roughly one in three of the civilly committed offenders that we looked at would sexually reoffend within the course of their lifetimes,” Duwe said.

That rate, he noted, is lower than the legal threshold for committing an offender in the first place. In most jurisdictions that allow civil commitments, a judge must find that an offender is more likely to reoffend than not.

Petitions pending

Offenders seeking a way out of the MSOP must go through a special review board and then petition an appeal panel of the state Supreme Court. Three recently were granted transfers to community preparation, the last stage before provisional discharge; three more petitions are pending. If approved, 18 offenders will be poised to move into the community under close supervision at some point.

Jesson recently endorsed provisional discharge petitions from three offenders, noting that their discharge plans include numerous safeguards such as continuing treatment, GPS monitoring and covert surveillance.

“But I do think [these] decisions have to be made very, very carefully,” she said. “Because we do not only have to think about treatment, we do have to think about public safety needs as well.”

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