Apparently, the stark reality is that Judge Donovan Frank was wrong. Surprise, surprise.

Federal judges: MN sex offender program constitutional

Issues Brian Bakst · St. Paul · Jan 3, 2017

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel has reversed a ruling that had declared Minnesota’s sex offender confinement program unconstitutional, putting the matter back in the hands of a lower court and easing pressure on lawmakers to make major changes.

Tuesday’s ruling overturned an order by federal Judge Donovan Frank that threatened to upend the program.

Minnesota is one of about 20 states where sex offenders can be confined through a civil court order either instead of prison or after an offender’s prison sentence is up. It came under scrutiny because offenders had little chance of leaving the secured facilities once committed.

• August 2015: Minnesota officials expect costly sex offender program fix

More than 700 civilly committed sex offenders had sued the state claiming it was unconstitutional to keep them locked up indefinitely and that they don’t get adequate treatment from the program run by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Most were court-ordered to receive sex offender treatment after they finished their prison sentences, a process called civil commitment. Offenders are confined at treatment facilities in Moose Lake, Minn., and St. Peter, Minn.

Frank ripped the program in his June 2015 ruling, saying the “stark reality is that there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders.”

However, in their 23-page opinion on Tuesday, the three appeals judges said that Frank applied the wrong standard in determining the program was invalid and overturned his mandate that changes be made.

“We conclude this extensive process and the protections to persons committed under the MCTA (Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment Act) are rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest of protecting its citizens from sexually dangerous persons or persons who have a sexual psychopathic personality,” the judges wrote.

“Those protections,” they added, “allow committed individuals to petition for a reduction in custody, including release.”

Gov. Mark Dayton welcomed the ruling. He had insisted that further incarceration of some offenders was constitutionally sound and necessary.

“The Minnesota system now is constitutional and that means we continue to make the reforms that we have started at our pace and at an affordable cost to our state budget, rather than have it done under a federal directive, the governor said Tuesday.

He said he was still reviewing the appeals court ruling but added that the lack of court pressure makes it harder to make changes.

MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire contributed to this report

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