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Members named to task force charged with reforming sex offender civil commitment system

Posted by: Updated: October 5, 2012 - 7:02 PM

A retired chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court will lead a 16-member task force appointed to figure out how to reform the state's controversial and expensive system for civilly committing and confining paroled sex offenders to indefinite treatment, officials announced Friday.

Retired Chief Justice Eric Magnuson will be joined on the task force by a retired federal judge, two sitting state court judges, four state lawmakers, a law school dean and others picked for their knowledge of the system or their expertise in criminal justice, sex offender treatment or victim advocacy.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Arthur Boylan in August ordered state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to convene a task force of experts to recommend options less restrictive that the state's prison-like treatment centers and to suggest changes in how sex offenders are selected for civil commitment, as well as how they might earn release from the program.

The order came during pretrial discussions in a class-action lawsuit brought by patients who argued that their indefinite detention after completing their prison sentences is unconstitutional.

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program was created in 1994 to treat small numbers of the state's worst sex criminals who had finished their prison sentences but were deemed too dangerous to release. 

But the 2003 killing of college student Dru Sjodin by a rapist newly released from prison prompted a surge of commitments of all types of sex offenders, from rapists to nonviolent molesters The state went from committing an average of 15 annually before 2003 to 50 annually after that pivotal year.

The program's population has soared to more than 600 -- the most sex-offender commitments per capita in the country. They cost state taxpayers more than $300 a day per offender, compared to less than $90 per day for offenders getting treated in state prisons.

The task force's first meeting is set for Thursday in St. Paul. It is required to produce its first set of recommendations by Dec. 3

 For more information, see this page of the state Department of Human Services web site.

Besides Magnuson, those appointed to the task force are:

Retired U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum

State Rep. Jim Abeler, chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee

Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin

Eric Janus, president and dean of William Mitchell College of Law

Gerald Kaplan, executive director of Alpha Human Services

State Rep. Tina Liebling, lead minority member of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee

State Sen. Warren Limmer, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee

State Sen. Tony Lourey, ranking minority member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Nancy Schouweiler, chair of the Dakota County Board of Commissioners and chair of the National Association of Counties' Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee

Appointed as ex-officio members:

Kelly Lyn Mitchell, executive director of the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission

State Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy

Dr. Michael Thompson, president of the state chapter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers

James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association

Ramsey County District Court Judge Joanne Smith, chief judge of the Judicial Appeal Panel, which hears all petitions by civilly committed sex offenders for reduction in custody. Her inclusion was ordered by U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank.

 

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