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Report: Minn. Sex Offender Program Needs Space

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Sex Offender Program is looking for an emergency 55-bed expansion as it fills up with sex offenders committed to treatment by the courts after serving prison time.

A new report to the Legislature from program officials recommends a $7 million renovation of a 50-year-old state security hospital building in St. Peter. The project would start this year and be finished by 2013, when existing facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter are projected to reach capacity.

Officials are looking toward next year, when they hope to win approval of a larger project on the Moose Lake campus. Their preferred option: a 400-bed expansion that would cost $57 million and be ready to open by 2014.

Program spokeswoman Bonnie Martin said Gov. Mark Dayton will decide whether to include the emergency expansion request in his bonding proposal to lawmakers. Dayton spokeswoman Katie Tinucci said Dayton will present the request by the end of the month.

The secure treatment program continues to grow as judges commit more sex offenders but no one gets out. With 605 patients this month, the program is projected to add about 50 each year. Program director Dennis Benson told a legislative panel Monday that he expects the first release within the next year as two sex offenders in the most advanced treatment level petition for provisional discharges.

Last year’s construction projects bill included $47.5 million for the Moose Lake campus, slightly more than half the amount sought by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. That money went for infrastructure, not beds, including everything from kitchen and dining space to security and treatment rooms. A 400-bed building in Moose Lake opened in 2009.

Benson touched on the space needs as he testified about the program before the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

“This is a highly litigious population,” he said. “We get sued just about every week on lumpy gravy or unmade beds or something, so I think we would work very hard with legislative leadership and the executive branch to make sure that we had the room to accommodate growth.”

Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he expects to limit this year’s bonding bill to “bread and butter.” He hesitated when asked if the sex offender program would fit into that category.

“We need to understand the urgency a little bit more,” he said. “Obviously if that urgency does exist, we need to consider that.”

GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers said money for the sex offender facility should be included if the Legislature approves a bonding bill, but lawmakers first want to review past bonding projects with unspent funds before approving new ones.

“If there is to be a bonding bill this year, I would say that’s an absolute priority,” said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

The Shantz Building on the state’s St. Peter campus houses Minnesota Security Hospital patients, who would have to be moved to make way for the sex offenders. Annual operating costs for those beds are estimated at $3 million a year. It will cost $67.4 million this year to operate the full program.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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