Minnesota’s sex-offender treatment program plans to move as many as a dozen low-functioning and ailing offenders from its high-security treatment campuses to a lower-security facility in Cambridge next year if the state receives court approval.
Thursday’s announcement by Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson comes as the state faces mounting legal pressure to reform the 20-year-old sex offender program. Several residents in the program are suing the state in federal court, claiming it violates their constitutional rights because no one ever gets released from the two high-security facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.
“These are steps to reform the program,” Jesson said.
In a letter to state legislative leaders, Jesson said the program’s treatment team will support the petitions of six offenders who are intellectually disabled to transfer to the state facility in Cambridge. In the fall, the state will also seek to move roughly six offenders with serious medical needs to the facility.
The Cambridge facility, which also is operated by the Department of Human Services, currently serves clients with developmental disabilities. They are being moved from that facility, and it will be refashioned to accommodate the sex offenders. It will include increased security, but will be less restrictive than St. Peter and Moose Lake, Jesson said.
The announcement prompted Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer to say residents in her community are likely to be concerned when they learn of the state’s plans. She said the city was given little warning of the state’s plans, and she first learned about them from a reporter on Thursday.
“I’m really concerned,” she said. “We kind of got it dropped in our lap.”
Jesson said Human Services officials will meet with Cambridge residents if they wish to offer input or ask questions.
That effort will begin Wednesday, when program officials go to Cambridge to “introduce ourselves and discuss any possible questions or concerns,” according to an e-mail sent Thursday afternoon.
In addition to the federal lawsuit, the sex offender program was the subject of a critical 2011 report by Legislative Auditor James Nobles. The report found that no offender had been discharged from the program since it was created in 1994 and that left the state was susceptible to lawsuits challenging the effectiveness of the program, which has ballooned to more than 600 offenders who are civilly committed.
The report also urged officials to establish alternatives for offenders who could be reasonably treated in lower security facilities — a goal the agency had in mind with Thursday’s announcement, Jesson said.
If the court approves the transfer, the offenders would start moving to the facility in the second half of 2014. The facility is licensed for a maximum of 16 occupants.