Our View... Status quo isn’t good enough at sex offender facilitiesLast week, Minnesota State Representative Debra Hilstrom introduced a bill requiring any resident of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) convicted of a felony at the treatment center be sent to prison for the entire term of his or her sentence.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Last week, Minnesota State Representative Debra Hilstrom introduced a bill requiring any resident of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) convicted of a felony at the treatment center be sent to prison for the entire term of his or her sentence. Under the initial terms of the bill, the courts would not be allowed to “stay” the felony sentence – and the offender would have to serve the entire sentence, with no time off for good behavior. After offenders complete their prison sentences, the Department of Corrections would send the offender back to the MSOP facility in Moose Lake or St. Peter.
Hilstom’s bill (House HF0726-2) makes sense at first glance.
1) If someone commits a crime, there should be consequences. Too often, offenders who assault other offenders or MSOP staff at the Moose Lake facility end up spending time in the Carlton County jail while their court case works its way through the system and then they simply get to go back to Moose Lake.
2) It’s a lot cheaper to house people in state prisons (at a cost of approximately $85/day) rather than the sex offender program (where it costs closer to $350/day).
3) Best case scenario, by removing the “criminal” element from MSOP, perhaps those offenders who are sincere in their efforts to be rehabilitated will have fewer distractions. Worst case, at least removing the troublesome elements will allow things to run more smoothly at the facility because every time an offender has to be transported to Carlton, everything has to stop inside the facility until they have been moved through and out of the building.
As things stand now, the residents at MSOP appear to have neither positive nor negative reinforcement for their behavior. The chances of being released are slim to none, so there is minimal incentive to reform. (Only one person has been released; he reoffended and got sent back.) As well, any legal punishment for misbehaving is minimal, and often significantly delayed.
MSOP patient Sarprio Doranti – who changed his name from Elliot Bell Holly – is a case in point. He was in Carlton County Court Monday for sentencing on several cases, but the hearing was delayed. (For details, read “Offender will go to prison… soon” on page A2.)
A longtime resident of the MSOP Moose Lake treatment facility, Doranti is a familiar face in Carlton County Court because of repeated offenses committed in the treatment facility.
In 2010, for example, the Pine Journal wrote about a case in which Doranti was a patient in the high security unit of the MSOP-ML facility when staff observed him damaging the walls by scraping them and rubbing ink and feces on them. He allegedly had at least two metal shanks, which he had sharpened to a point (which appeared to be made out of metal from an eyeglasses case and a nail clipper). He proceeded to make numerous threats of harm toward any nearby security staff. The complaint also states that when two female staff members tried to reason with him, he threatened to kill one and blow up her home and exposed himself to the other, while masturbating.
For his threats and vile actions, Doranti served no prison time. Actually, that particular case was dismissed as part of a sort of “bulk” plea agreement on numerous cases last spring in which Doranti was sentenced to serve 225 days locally. With credit for the 150 days he’d already served in Carlton County jail, he was sent back to Moose Lake after the sentencing. An additional two-year prison sentence was stayed, provided he behaved himself.
Was there any kind of reformative effect?
Doranti’s record speaks for itself. Since he was sentenced and transferred back to MSOP, Doranti has reoffended.
Perhaps prison will be different. Or not. If not, at least it will be a matter of the state taking care of one of its own at a fraction of the cost, rather than the county having to shoulder the burden of caring for such a difficult inmate.
Not everyone is a fan of the Hilstrom bill.
Sixth Judicial District Chief Public Defender Fred Friedman thinks it’s a terrible idea.
“All it will do is encourage more trials: no one will plead guilty,” Friedman said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We’re discriminating against people that are in a hospital. They’re mentally ill. Why should they get longer sentences than people on the outside [or in state prisons] who do the same thing? They’re not inmates or convicts – they’ve done their time. They’re patients.”
Whether you agree or disagree, one thing is certain: Simply continuing with the MSOP model as it exists in this state is not an acceptable option.
Hilstrom’s bill is a step, and we wouldn’t object if a modified version – allowing local judges and attorneys to plea bargain at least ¬– becomes law someday.
Most importantly, however, lawmakers also need to act to give the sex offenders supposedly “in treatment” at MSOP a reason to behave – the hope that they can someday be released – with conditions, of course – in something other than a body bag.