State program constitutional but still problematic

Managing Editor

The Journal of New Ulm

A federal appeals court has overturned a federal judge’s ruling that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is unconstitutional. This is the program that allows the state to keep sex offenders who pose the greatest risk of offending again in detention after they have served their criminal sentences. It’s a program designed to keep the public safe from these offenders, and give the offenders a chance to be rehabilitated before being released back to the public.

The problem with the program is that in more than 20 years, only  a handful of offenders have earned even a provisional release. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank ruled in 2015 that it amounts to a life sentence, which he declared unconstitutional, ordering the state to make changes to make it easier for people in the program to get on the path to release.

More than 700 offenders are held in the program. With more coming in and few going out, the state is operating an increasingly expensive program.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Frank used too strict a standard in analyzing the program and sent it back to the lower courts, where Frank could still find it unconstitutional. The 700+ offenders who filed the lawsuit against the program could still appeal to the full court of appeals, or go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever the courts may decide, there is something wrong with a program that takes people in, supposedly to treat them and rehabilitate them if possible, but never lets them back out. Either the treatment and rehab are ineffective, or the officials who decide who gets out are afraid to take the chance of releasing a potential sex offender.

Judge Frank’s 2015 ruling was forcing the state to address the problems in the program. Fix it, or I will, he said.

With this ruling declaring the program constitutional, the state should continue to address the problems in the program.