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 knowledge of the system or 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 than 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 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. Each offender costs state taxpayers more than $300 a day, 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.

Larry Oakes • 612-673-1751