By Mike Kaszuba

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said Tuesday that a detailed look at Minnesota's controversial sex offender program would hopefully answer many questions, but may not reach a definitive conclusion on whether it "either works or doesn't work."

Nobles acknowledged that the study, which he said his office would finish early next year, was tackling a topic that has created many headlines and much debate at the Legislature and would explore whether the program is effectively managed and provided "adequate treatment with reasonable opportunities" for patients to be discharged.

But Nobles said the study also needed to take a longer view of the program, looking at the costs of incarcerating a sex offender versus the costs of releasing them into society and running the risk of having them commit other sex crimes.  "Sometimes, it's impossible to calculate," he said.

The state's sex offender program, which has grown from 149 patients in 2000 to 552 this year, has created political tension between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFL legislators over whether its costs can be contained and how much more should be spent without a thorough review of whether it is working.  The governor and DFLers clashed earlier this year over Pawlenty's proposal to build a new facility in Moose Lake to accommodate the program's growth.

Convicted sex offenders are sent into the program using civil commitments after they finish serving their prison terms, but state officials acknowledge that no patient has yet been successfully treated.  The program came to the forefront after the widely-publicized abduction and murder of Dru Sjodin by a convicted sex offender early in the governor's administration.

"This is an incredibly important topic," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, who attended Tuesday's hearing to discuss the study's details.