What will it take to resolve the problem with housing released perpetrators?
Housing situation is far from resolved
I want to thank the countless concerned individuals, groups, elected officials and leaders in Cambridge and around Minnesota who helped temporarily defeat Gov. Mark Dayton’s plans to move dangerous sex offenders to our city. Having spent decades protecting the citizens as a sheriff’s deputy for Isanti County before being elected to the Minnesota Legislature, I was alarmed by these plans. Minnesota’s Department of Human Services was met with outrage and fear when these ideas became public.
The proposal to bring sex offenders to the former state hospital site in the middle of Cambridge, near homes and a city park, was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Would we place patients undergoing treatment for alcoholism next to a liquor store? Of course not. Any facilities housing these offenders should be located far from residential areas.
Our work to protect Cambridge from future plans like this is not over. In fact, state officials have eyed other communities for similar plans. While we legislators will get the opportunity to reform this broken program when we meet in the spring, there are no guarantees that less-secure facilities won’t be used to house these offenders down the road.
I look forward to your input as we move forward and permanently reform these laws to better protect Minnesotans for generations to come.
STATE REP. BRIAN JOHNSON, R-Cambridge
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The principal problem with the sex offender treatment and release program is not our current statute. It is the lack of political courage by our last two governors. We carefully modeled our statute after a 1990 Washington state law that was upheld in a U.S. Supreme Court decision. When Gov. Tim Pawlenty, by executive order, stopped all sex offender releases, I wrote to him predicting a threat to our sex offender program if no release could be had.
Yes, the number of committed offenders has gone from 70 to 700, first because of county attorneys’ increased use of the standards for commitment and second because Minnesota has a drastic shortage of state-run and state-funded transition housing for released offenders.
The release problem can be solved. But where can these persons go to live? The need for state-run facilities should be part of Gov. Dayton’s next budget, and the management of these facilities should be under the various county Community Correction programs that are now state-funded. If Dayton doesn’t fulfill this obvious responsibility, the appropriate legislative leadership should do so.
Why can’t our governor and legislators do as we did for our current statute — namely, look to other states for how they solved this common and politically explosive problem? Let’s not throw out the law we carefully crafted because of lack of political courage.
DAVID BISHOP, Rochester
The writer was a Republican member of the Minnesota House from 1982 to 2002.
The option of being ready for employers
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