A federal judge ordered Minnesota to reform its system for civilly committing and confining paroled sex offenders to indefinite treatment, a controversial practice that has drawn international criticism because almost no one has got out, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan ordered state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson to convene a task force of experts to recommend options less restrictive than the state’s prison-like treatment centers and to suggest changes in how offenders are selected for civil commitment, as well as how they might earn release from the program.
The order came during pretrial discussions in a class-action lawsuit by patients who argued that their indefinite detention after completing their prison sentences is unconstitutional. Critics of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program called the order an unprecedented and significant step toward changing a system that has been a magnet for controversy since its creation in 1994 with the construction of a sprawling campus surrounded by razor wire. The program was created to treat small numbers of the state’s worst sex criminals who had completed their prison sentences but were deemed too dangerous to release. The 2003 killing of college student Dru Sjodin by a rapist newly released from prison prompted a surge of commitments of all types of sex criminals, from rapists to nonviolent molesters. The state went from committing 15 per year before 2003 to 50 per year.