ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Experts appointed to evaluate the Minnesota Sex Offender Program testified Monday they found several people in the program who are similar to a man they believe should be immediately freed without conditions — and they plan to issue findings on those individuals by the end of the summer.
Robin Wilson, one of the court-appointed experts evaluating Minnesota's civil commitment program for sex offenders, said the panel began reviewing the placement of certain individuals earlier this year and were shocked to find a young man who was there for sexual offenses committed when he was 10 and 14 years old, as well as a female client who is living alongside male sex offenders.
He called the woman's placement "fundamentally inappropriate," and said the man "should never have been in there in the first place."
The MSOP is the state-run treatment program for sexual offenders who have been civilly committed as sexually dangerous or sexual psychopaths. Nearly 700 people have been committed to high-security facilities in Moose Lake or St. Peter after their prison terms were completed.
In 2011, a group of residents filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the program is unconstitutional because it keeps them locked up indefinitely after they complete their prison sentences. Attorneys argue that amounts to a life sentence. Only one patient has moved through treatment and been successfully released, with provisions, since 1994.
The experts are evaluating the program and individual placement as part of the litigation.
Wilson said that earlier this year, a federal judge asked the panel to start focusing on clients in several categories, including those without adult convictions, those with severe mental illnesses or cognitive limitations, and the elderly.
Wilson said they found a man, identified in court documents as E.T., in Moose Lake who had been convicted of sex offenses as a juvenile and they recommended in May that he be released immediately, saying there was little evidence to show he's a risk.
The Associated Press is not identifying the man, now 24, because he was not convicted as an adult.
"We saw a number of people who are reasonably similar," Wilson testified. "We anticipate filing similar reports on people who are more or less in the same boat." In later testimony, he estimated the panel would issue reports on more than 10 young adults similar to E.T., but he did not elaborate on whether the experts would recommend release.
He said the experts plan to file those reports, and a comprehensive report on the program itself, by the end of August.
Nathan Brennaman, an attorney for the state, objected after Wilson said the judge met with experts without attorneys from either side present and directed them to look at specific groups for "bellweather" cases.
Brennaman said it sounded like the experts were told to look at certain individuals, and report only on problems or misplacements. He said there are no plans to write reports on individuals who are properly placed.
Dan Gustafson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said no one suggested that the experts reach a certain conclusion, and they were told to focus their efforts to be efficient.
In the case of the man, the state disagrees with immediate release but said he should be transferred to a less-restrictive part of MSOP that will prepare him for eventual discharge. Testimony Monday revealed he has received some helpful treatment and matured.
The state has said that in the case of the woman, Rhonda Bailey, there is no place outside the program that would be suitable. Brennaman said Bailey has offended against women she has been housed with in the past, and when recently allowed to go on outings, she asked that they be discontinued.
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