Cambridge: Anxiety over sex offender relocation

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2013 - 9:54 PM

State officials may get an earful from Cambridge residents, officials when they discuss plans for medium-security treatment facility.

 

State human services officials may get a surprise reception in Cambridge on Tuesday as they explain a plan to move a dozen or more frail or low-functioning sex offenders into a local care facility.

The Department of Human Services will host two public meetings with the Cambridge City Council to explain a state plan to use a 48-bed, medium-security facility that currently serves clients with developmental disabilities.

Deputy Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry told a special task force on sex-offender commitments Thursday that the agency has support from Cambridge city officials to transfer about a dozen “low-functioning,” nonambulatory and seriously ill clients to the less secure facility in their central Minnesota city.

“We don’t see it the same way,” Cambridge City Administrator Lynda Woulfe said Monday.

Woulfe said the city was surprised last month when the state agency announced plans to move any sex offenders to Cambridge. After meeting with state officials to learn the details, she said, “We still do not feel that this is the best fit for our community.”

The agency, under court pressure, is moving the sex offenders from a high-security treatment facility to less-restrictive sites. It wants to use the Cambridge site for about a dozen dangerous or mentally ill sex offenders who were committed for treatment after their release from prison, but who cannot meet the release requirements because of their illnesses or disabilities.

Woulfe said the department initially told the city it would transfer six to eight clients, but recently acknowledged that the program could grow to encompass the entire Cambridge facility.

That fits what Nancy Johnston, executive director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, told lawyers and other interested parties at a public meeting last week in St. Paul.

“We envision 48 beds at Cambridge,” she said. Johnston said that offenders at all stages of their treatment might end up being housed in Cambridge, including some who will be “provisionally discharged” by the court to be released into the community with only casual, electronic monitoring.

Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said Monday that Johnston’s and Barry’s comments were premature. “People can speculate and think about things, but we’re licensed for 16 beds there, and I see those beds best used for transfers for alternative [low-functioning] clients and our medically needy clients,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we might not consider other things. But that is certainly, absolutely not a decision that I have made.”

Court pressure

The state is defending the Minnesota Sex Offender Program against a federal class-action lawsuit that alleges that the program is unconstitutional, in part because it fails to offer less-restrictive treatment alternatives to the top-security facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. None of the more than 700 offenders has ever been discharged from the program. Any transfers affecting the level of security for an offender must be approved by a special appellate court panel.

Woulfe said she understands that the state has to do something to reform the program and that it lacks the money to build new facilities. But she said the area around the Cambridge facility has been built up with residences, and a library or community center are on the drawing board.

“This may jeopardize the city’s ability to build a new library,” she said.

Woulfe said it’s unclear what kind of security would be imposed if the state uses Cambridge for sex offenders.

“We have quite a few residents that are exceedingly anxious about this and are organizing a campaign to get the governor to change the decision,” she said.

Mara Reiner, who lives about five blocks from the Cambridge facility, is organizing residents to block the state’s plans. “The only thing that we can do about it is apply political pressure to [Gov.] Mark Dayton, and fortunately he is going into a re-election year,” she said.

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