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OUR VIEW: Fixing the MSOP

It is easier to simply ignore the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Pretend that it -- and the people it allegedly treats -- do not exist. Their crimes are difficult to imagine, let alone discuss.

For a long time, not many people did talk about the MSOP program ... and it grew and grew and grew. Now Minnesota leads the nation in the number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita (698). While we may be in first place, that's not good, particularly when you consider the range of offenders who have essentially been locked up without a key at tremendous cost to taxpayers (three times the cost of prison).

And, even though the Moose Lake MSOP facility provides a number of good jobs at good wages, the idea that the facility would continue its growth, unchecked, at tremendous cost to all taxpayers in the state, is unacceptable.

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by a group of MSOP "clients" in 2011 -- the group of civilly committed sex offenders argue that the program is unconstitutional and inhumane because almost no one has ever been released and the treatment is inadequate -- a state-appointed task force has been studying the program and released its recommendations Monday. As well, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank will begin hearing arguments on the program's constitutionality on Dec. 18.

Thoughtful examination and oversight of the program are long overdue.

Take the example of Eric Eischens cited in an article in Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. Only 19 years old and developmentally disabled, Eischens was committed to an indefinite term in Minnesota's sex-offender treatment program on Nov. 7, based on the fact that Eischens confessed to sexually molesting at least six boys before he turned 14. When he was just a boy. Eischens is not alone. Some 52 of the 698 offenders currently in the program have never been convicted of an adult crime, according to state records.

So basically, our Minnesota courts have locked up 52 people who committed crimes as children with some of the most vile sexual offenders in the state, including Thomas Duvall, 58, a violent serial rapist who has admitted to attacking at least 60 women, including a 17-year-old girl he raped while hitting her with a hammer. (Duvall was recently considered for release, but Gov. Mark Dayton basically stopped the process.)

Task force recommendations -- which are the result of 20 public meetings over a 14-month period -- focus on actions that "rationalize" the process and make it more objective, at the same time eliminating as much as possible the "influence of politics on commitment, placement and release decisions."

The panel said Minnesota should create a centralized court to oversee the civil commitment of rapists, pedophiles and other sex offenders, and develop options for less violent offenders to be placed in less restrictive settings than the current options at Moose Lake and St. Peter. The task force report also noted that the criteria for commitment must accurately identify and commit individuals who present "a significant and demonstrable risk to the public in the absence of commitment." As well, identification and treatment for such individuals should start when they are in prison, rather than at the end of their prison sentence.

"There is broad consensus that the current system of civil commitment captures too many people and keeps many of them too long," the report states in its introduction.

Despite creating a task force that has come through with recommendations, some politicians in St. Paul still may choose to ignore the MSOP problem, because they'd rather not be blamed if the wrong person is released and hurts another innocent victim.

Understandable and unacceptable.

We hope that Minnesota's legislators decide to act like leaders rather than politicians and take action to make the MSOP a better, more just, program. Otherwise Judge Frank may do it for them, and he won't have to listen to the task force or anyone else.