Legislature needs to fix sex offender commitment program

Minnesota’s courts continue to make it clear to legislators that they need to make changes to the state’s sex offender commitment program before the courts do it for them.

Several court decisions in recent months have warned the Legislature that the courts view the commitment program, which takes convicted sex offenders who are considered most likely to offend again, and commits them to a state treatment program after they have served their prison sentence. In theory, the program is supposed to provide therapy and treatment programs to make them less likely to offend, and release them when they no longer pose a risk to the public. The program has taken in hundreds of offenders, but only two have ever been released.

This week the Minnesota Supreme Court made an unusual ruling, reversing the commitment of a man to the program and sending his case back to the lower courts for further consideration on whether less restrictive programs are available.

Supreme Court Justice Alan Page wrote, in a concurring opinion, that the state has created a “one-size-fits-all” program that fails to provide less restrictive alternatives. “It is equally clear that we, as a court, have failed in our obligations to ensure that commitment … is not merely a form of preventive detention,” Page wrote.

There are no doubt many offenders in the state program who should not be on the streets. The Legislature should find alternatives to endless and expensive incarceration before the courts force the issue by throwing open the treatment center doors and letting them loose.

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