An independent task force said Minnesota needs to reexamine its current sex offender treatment program to create more stringent rules for committing and discharging offenders.
The task force said the current system is susceptible to political agendas, and it recommends that more power be bestowed upon professional experts and judges to oversee the process. They also said the program currently casts a wide net for sexual offenders, and sometimes less violent offenders get lumped in with more severe criminals.
“There is broad consensus that the current system of civil commitment captures too many people and keeps many of them too long,” the independent task force said in their 18-page report.
You can view the full report here, but below is an abbreviated list of the considerations the task force recommended upon examining the current system:
- The process for identification and treatment of individuals who may be candidates for civil commitment should begin at an earlier stage, during the time of criminal confinement.
- The statutory criteria for commitment as a Sexually Dangerous Person or Sexual Psychopathic Personality (“SDP” and “SPP”) must ensure that the civil commitment process accurately identifies and commits those individuals who present a significant and demonstrable risk to the public in the absence of commitment, but does not sweep into the civil commitment process individuals who present a lower risk.
- Current procedures for initial screening and commencement of commitment proceedings result in significantly disproportionate-rates of commitment petition filings in different areas of the state. A centralized screening body that would review all recommendations for further proceedings would help address the apparent disparity in the rates at which civil commitments are sought.
- Commitment decisions are too often all or nothing adjudications. Under current law, all offenders committed to MSOP are presumptively placed in the highest level of security. The result is that some offenders, while meeting the criteria for commitment, may be needlessly confined in the most secure facilities, when both public safety and the need for effective treatment might be better served in a less restrictive environment. The commitment decisional process should be divided into two parts — a commitment decision, and then a separate placement decision.
- An independent judicial body, one that is not subject to local or other political pressures, should make commitment, transfer, and release decisions.
- The burden of proof at all stages of the commitment and confinement process should be on the State to show the need for initial commitment, for continued commitment, and the level of confinement needed to ensure public safety.
- The need for continued commitment and the propriety of placement must be reviewed on a regular basis, without demand or request by the committed individual.
- Civil commitment of persons whose offending behavior occurred while a juvenile and individuals with developmental disabilities present special issues that are not adequately addressed by current law and practices. Special criteria and/or procedures should be developed to ensure such persons are appropriately treated in the commitment system.
- No person should be civilly committed based solely on behavior that occurred while that person was a juvenile.
Burden of Proof
One of the proposed changes is likely to face some backlash with the public. The change that shifts to burden of proof to the state to show that an offender is too dangerous to be released back into the community will likely be met with some outcry, said former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson, who led the task force.
“Anything you recommend that makes it harder to put people into the system and easier for them to get out … ” Magnuson said, “will be resisted at some level.”
Some of the proposed changes could make their way onto ballots as early as next year.
Related source: Star Tribune