The state of Minnesota won a round in court Thursday, when a federal appeals panel suspended a judge’s order that would have required prompt changes to the state’s troubled sex offender program.
In October U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ordered the state to revamp the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), including changes that could lead to the accelerated release of sex offenders. On Thursday the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary administrative stay of Frank’s order; it remains in effect while the appellate panel considers the state’s request for a longer stay that would cover the length of its full appeal of Frank’s decision.
If the longer stay is granted, the court-ordered reforms could be delayed another 18 months or longer as the appeal proceeds. A decision on the longer stay is expected by mid-December.
The changes ordered by Frank were designed to give MSOP detainees a clearer path to release from a program they have characterized as indefinite detention. The changes were to include independent evaluations of all offenders to determine if they still represent a public safety risk; the release of offenders who are determined to no longer pose a risk, and the development of less-restrictive treatment alternatives in the community, among other reforms.
In June, Frank ruled that the MSOP violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution by detaining individuals indefinitely without giving them regular risk evaluations, access to the courts and other safeguards in the criminal justice system. Frank argued that the MSOP was punitive in nature, and that untold numbers of individuals were being detained who no longer meet the state’s criteria for confinement.
The Dayton administration has made incremental changes to the MSOP while supporting the appeal and resisting the sort of broad reforms sought by Frank and numerous outside experts. The state has argued that the court-ordered reforms are excessively costly and pose a threat to public safety. At the same time, Gov. Mark Dayton has said that when the Legislature meets in March he likely will propose about $10 million to accelerate the pace of evaluations for the MSOP’s patients.