Even though he has never been convicted of a sex crime as an adult, Craig Bolte has been confined at a state treatment center for nearly a decade, in part for rule violations as minor as showing up late for a worship service or sharing food with a peer, according to his sworn testimony Thursday.

Bolte, 27, who sexually assaulted his sister as a juvenile, argued his confinement at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) treatment center in Moose Lake has been prolonged unnecessarily because of a series of rule violations — many of them triggered by his own sense of futility that he will never be released. His testimony amounted to firsthand confirmation of a formal review last year by four court-appointed authorities who concluded that offenders were often moved back in treatment based on written behavior reports not tied to their sexual offenses.

Bolte’s testimony came in the second week of a federal class-action trial that could determine the future of the program, which is under challenge by a group of MSOP residents claiming it doesn’t offer genuine treatment or a realistic path to release.

Only three men have been provisionally discharged from the program in its 20-year history, and none has been completely released, which has created a climate of hopelessness, critics say. Bolte argued the result is a self-perpetuating cycle in which detainees act out and break rules because they have lost hope for release; these rule violations can prolong their detention.

“If I’m doing a life sentence, what reason do I have to follow these rules?” Bolte asked.

In earlier testimony this week, psychologists and staff members defended the program, pointing out that growing numbers of offenders have progressed to the final stage of treatment at the St. Peter facility. Attorneys for the state insist treatment staff members care about the offenders, want to see them succeed in treatment and gain release.

Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed spending more than $11 million to make additional improvements. That includes moving 50 offenders to less-restrictive settings in the community, if they are approved, and funding to conduct biannual reviews of individual offenders to determine if they are ready for release.

Molested as a boy

Bolte is among about 60 MSOP residents who have no adult sex-crime convictions but were committed to the program based on their behavior as juveniles.

At issue in Thursday’s hearing is the MSOP’s frequent use of written reports of rule violations, known as “behavioral expectations reports,” that are sometimes cited in offender treatment reports. The use of these disciplinary reports in clinical reviews is controversial in part because many detainees at MSOP have developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, childhood trauma and other psychological factors that can make it difficult to follow rules.

In a scathing review of MSOP issued last November, the panel of court-appointed experts recommended offenders not be moved back in treatment based on disciplinary reports unrelated to sexual behavior.

Bolte testified that, after being molested as a boy, he became disruptive and spent most of his childhood rotating through juvenile detention centers and treatment programs. He arrived at Moose Lake just three days before his 19th birthday and began compiling violations for altercations, including one fight that got him sent to prison in Rush City for five months.

Bolte insisted he was forced to defend himself among older offenders. “I just prefer not to be viewed as vulnerable in a facility full of predators,” he said.

But many of his violations were minor in scope. Once, Bolte said, he was written up for borrowing a DVD from another client and for failing to show up at the facility library after registering. Bolte said he was also caught masturbating in his room by a security guard during a random room search. The violations caused him to be sent to individual confinement for as long as 45 days and impeded his treatment, Bolte said.

“From the moment I got there, all your hopes and dreams are taken away … ” Bolte said. “You’re pretty much gonna die.”

The trial will last through February and is expected to include testimony from as many as six more offenders as well as MSOP Clinical Director Jannine Hebert.