The Latest: Official: Sex offender program needs more money

AP News
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Posted: Jan 03, 2017 4:39 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Latest on a federal appeals court ruling that Minnesota's sex offender treatment program is constitutional (all times local):

3:30 p.m.

The head of the agency that operates the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is welcoming an appeals court's decision that the program is constitutional, but she says the Legislature needs to provide more money to keep it that way.

The program holds civilly committed sex offenders long after they complete their prison sentences.

Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper says the program faces "significant challenges" in complying with other court orders to move people in advanced treatment stages into less-restrictive settings. Piper says the courts have ordered provisional discharges for six people but there's no place to send them.

She says the program is seeking money for 30 new beds on its St. Peter campus outside of the facility's razor wire for people approaching release. She says money is also needed for two community-based facilities elsewhere.

Piper says she hasn't heard of any significant disruptions by residents disappointed with the ruling.

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12:15 p.m.

A federal appeals court ruling that says Minnesota's sex offender program is constitutional is a major stumbling block for critics of the program.

That's according to Eric Janus, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul and a leading expert on such programs.

Janus says the appellate court decided Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank held the state to too strict a standard in analyzing the program.

He says it appears the 8th Circuit used the lower "rational basis" standard, which gives the state more leeway in designing and implementing the program, when it decided the program is constitutional. He says he doesn't think that leaves Frank any room to still find the program unconstitutional.

Noting the possibility of further appeals, Janus says "it's not a complete death-knell" for critics of the program, but that it is "a very serious setback."

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11:05 a.m.

The lead attorney for around 700 people confined in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program says they're "really disappointed" with a federal appeals court ruling that the program is constitutional, and that they're considering further appeals.

Dan Gustafson says their options include asking the full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision issued by a three-judge panel Tuesday, or taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court. He says they're not giving up quietly and that he expects a quick decision.

He says a lower court's 2015 finding that the program was unconstitutional had given plaintiffs some hope that they weren't just being "warehoused."

Gustafson says the panel got it wrong when it said the district court should have used a lower standard for determining whether the program violates their due-process rights.

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10:30 a.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton is welcoming a federal appeals court ruling affirming the constitutionality of Minnesota's sex offender program.

Dayton and his administration had fought a lower court's ruling in 2015 that declared the program unconstitutional. He says the appeals court ruling Tuesday won't stop his efforts to improve the program, including seeking funding for less-restrictive facilities for offenders.

Dayton says the ruling "means that we can proceed at a pace that we can afford and we can manage."

State Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper calls the program "an important tool to protect public safety and deliver court-ordered treatment to sex offenders." She called on the Legislature to provide the needed resources to run the program "so we can continue to keep our communities safe."

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10 a.m.

A federal appeals court ruling that says Minnesota's sex offender program is constitutional is a setback for critics of the program.

That's according to Eric Janus, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul and a leading expert on such programs.

Janus says the appellate court decided Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank held the state to too strict a standard in analyzing the program. The appellate justices ordered that he instead apply what's called the "rational basis" test instead — which Janus says means the state has more leeway in the program's design.

But Janus says Frank might still find the program unconstitutional under the looser standard. He says the ruling is not a "death knell" for opponents who criticize the program because releases are so rare.

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9:30 a.m.

A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court decision that declared Minnesota's sex offender program unconstitutional because it holds people long after they complete their prison sentences.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday sided with the state and sent the case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

Only a handful of offenders have won provisional releases in the 20-plus-year history of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. That led U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in 2015 to declare it unconstitutional and order changes to make it easier for people to get on a path for release.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 700 offenders argued that the program amounts to a life sentence because hardly anyone gets out.