A federal appeals court declared Minnesota’s sex offender treatment program constitutional, handing a major victory to the state but potentially derailing long-awaited reforms to its system of indefinite detention for sex offenders, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a lower-court ruling and found that Minnesota’s system of committing sex offenders beyond their prison terms serves a “legitimate interest” in protecting citizens from dangerous sexual predators.
The ruling is a major setback for civil rights attorneys and legislators who have spent much of the past five years pressing for reforms that would put offenders on a faster path toward release from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). The appellate panel gave Minnesota’s program a clean bill of health, relieving immediate pressure on state officials to make major reforms to a program that has long been criticized as inhumane. A class of sex offenders sued the state in 2011, arguing that Minnesota violated their due-process rights by depriving them of access to the courts and other basic safeguards found in the criminal justice system. After reviewing the program and state law, the appeals court concluded that Minnesota provided adequate constitutional protections, including the right to petition for release. Over more than 20 years, the program has granted conditional discharge to only 14 offenders. Only one person, a 26-year-old confined for sexual acts he committed as a juvenile, has been fully discharged, and that did not occur until last August.