The costly and controversial Minnesota Sex Offender Program carries on for now, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear a case on whether the program violates offenders' due-process rights by keeping them in perpetual confinement.

That decision leaves standing an appellate panel ruling that the program meets constitutional muster. It does not, however, alleviate the need to revisit a program that has become increasingly problematic since its inception, more than 20 years ago.

Among the states that employ civil commitment, Minnesota stands out for the severity of its system. Only one offender in its history has ever been unconditionally released. Only a handful have been released with conditions. The vast majority of the 720 detainees in the program live a Kafka-esque existence, confined but not imprisoned, treated but never cured — at least not enough that release is considered.

When U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank declared the program unconstitutional in 2015, state leaders had the political cover they needed to overhaul it. Instead, they chose to fight the ruling. Now that the threat of court interference is removed, so too is their cover. Instead, they must find the courage on their own to change a program that is not sustainable or even morally defensible. If the state considers so many sex offenders too dangerous to release, imposing life prison sentences for those crimes would at least be more honest than a hopeless netherworld of treatment without release.

If the state believes in the efficacy of the MSOP, there should be regular evaluations for all those in the program, with realistic timelines for moving those who respond to treatment into less-restrictive settings and, finally, back into society. Yes, it is frightening to think of more sex offenders living among the general population. But it does no good to demonize this particular crime above all others when the recidivism rate is actually lower than for many other types of offenses.

Michael Miner, a professor and research director of the program in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota, was part of a team of experts that exhaustively examined the MSOP at Frank's request. In the past several years, he said, the program has made some progress, opening the door "a crack." That progress must continue and accelerate, even in the absence of a legal threat.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he wants to improve the program, and has asked for additional funding. Every effort should be made to first better use existing resources. Ultimately, it should be cheaper to release offenders into less-supervised settings, but additional upfront investment might be needed. Legislators in both parties should help lead the way. Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper has been ardent in her defense of the MSOP's legality. She should be equally ardent in developing cost-effective ways to improve the program, so that release becomes an achievable goal offenders can work toward.

Miner said that the MSOP "is not sustainable financially" for the long-term, particularly since it commits offenders at a rate twice that of neighboring states. Some offenders, he noted, committed their crimes as juveniles, served sentences into adulthood and then were remanded to the treatment program, even though the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders is 2 percent to 3 percent. Similarly, some prisoners have already grown old in the program. One is in his 90s.

Minnesotans are paying enormous sums to keep these offenders in treatment rather than in prison or in less-supervised settings. Treatment demands evaluation and should, at some point, hold the hope of a release other than death.