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Court finds Minnesota Sex Offender Program unconstitutional

In the U.S., we like to believe in the rule of law and due process. We believe many of the elements of the Constitution provide fundamental safeguards that prevent the unbridled power of the state from smothering individual rights and hauling people off to prison camps like those operated by the Nazi government of Germany or the gulag of the Soviet Union.

Unless you’re a sex offender. 

Even in a state like Minnesota, often praised for its progressive, forward-looking mindset, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) is anything but progressive. Since its inception in 1994, the MSOP has never fully discharged an inmate.

This may not seem surprising, given that many had been convicted of violent sex crimes and adjudged to be "sexually dangerous" or possess "sexual psychopathic personalities." Except that all of the offenders have already completed their prison sentences, which the legislature had put in place to punish them, before they began their time in the MSOP.

If the legislature wanted to make all sex crimes punishable by life in prison with no parole, they may do so, but it would be very expensive. And potentially extraordinarily unjust. But sex offenders remain the one class of individuals, perhaps more than any other, which American society is willing to classify as a pariah.

However, the MSOP is supposed to offer treatment to inmates with the eventual goal of release. Yet in 21 years, only three inmates have been found worthy of very limited and controlled release from the "civil" detention offered by the program.

A federal judge has ruled in a class action by inmates that "there is something very wrong" with the program, which is supposed to provide "intense treatment" for those committed to the program, but who are actually treated as prisoners, and have virtually no chance for release.

The judge has now ruled the Minnesota program is unconstitutional and ordered the state to develop a program that meets constitutional muster. Many other states that have similar programs are watching this case, knowing they, too, could face similar lawsuits to reform their programs.

Source: nytimes.com, "Minnesota’s Holding of Sex Offenders After Prison Is Ruled Unconstitutional," Monica Davey, June 17, 2015

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