ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An expensive program designed to rehabilitate the Minnesota’s worst sexual predators provides fewer hours of treatment each week than less feared sex offenders receive in prison or private residential treatment, a new report said Friday.
That was a key finding in Legislative Auditor James Nobles’ review of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and the civil commitment process used to send sex offenders there when their prison time runs out. With the state spending $120,000 a year for each of the more than 600 residents — three times the cost of prison — the program is getting a closer look from lawmakers.
The Legislative Audit Commission examined the report Friday as a judicial panel considered John Rydberg’s attempt to become the first person permanently freed from the program since it began in 1995. The convicted rapist petitioned for provisional release after reaching the final level of treatment. Only six others have made it that far, and one other has petitioned to get out.
The auditor’s review of 41 offenders’ schedules found they received inconsistent treatment and not enough of it — a weekly average of 7 1/2 hours of group therapy and psychological education classes, which is on the low end compared to 19 other states that civilly commit sex offenders. Sex offenders in state prisons receive 9 to 10 1/2 hours of group therapy and classes and Alpha Human Services, a private residential program in Minneapolis, provides at least 16 hours.
“MSOP was designed to hold and treat the highest risk offenders in the state,” the report said. “However, it appears that offenders who are lower risk . . . receive more intensive treatment as measured by hours of sex offender treatment per week.”
The report recommends more weekly hours of treatment for sex offenders in the program.
It also found that high turnover and unfilled jobs among clinical staff — particularly on the program’s Moose Lake campus — hampered some offenders’ progress. The program is on its third executive director and fourth executive clinical director in seven years, with the treatment approach revamped frequently since 2003. Auditors said at one point six of eight clinical supervisor positions were unfilled and with vacancies among clinical staff, some were managing 25 offenders instead of the recommended eight.
The other program’s other campus is in St. Peter, southwest of the Twin Cities.
State human services officials said all but four vacancies in Moose Lake have been filled and workers are trying to increase the number of hours of treatment offenders receive.
“The challenge here of course is if we spend more on treatment and staff, the program has more cost and is more expensive,” Deputy Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry told lawmakers.
With about 50 sex offenders added each year, the program’s population has nearly quadrupled in the past decade and is expected to double again in the next 10 years. Officials have asked lawmakers to approve a $7 million expansion this year and are preparing to submit a much larger construction request next year.
“It’s hard to tell if it’s working,” said House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee Chairman Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder. “They won’t know until they release somebody.”
Cornish said he hopes a task force will come up with ideas to improve the program before next year’s legislative session.
–Minnesota has the nation’s highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per person, at 110 per million residents, about four times the average for the other 19 states with civil commitment. Possible explanations include a low legal standard for civil commitment and a dramatic spike in civil commitment referrals starting in late 2003, when a convicted rapist released from a Minnesota prison abducted, raped and killed North Dakota college student Dru Sjodin.
–Sex offenders in Hennepin and Ramsey counties and northeastern Minnesota were less likely to end up civilly committed after prison than those in the rest of Minnesota, where prosecutors were more aggressive about pursuing civil commitments. “It calls into question whether we’re committing the worst of the worst to civil commitment,” project manager John Yunker said. The report recommends a task force to look at standardizing the civil commitment process.
–For sex offenders nearing the end of their prison time, Minnesota’s system offers no middle option between civil commitment and release. The report recommends developing alternatives, such as cheaper facilities that could treat sex offenders and the option of staying a commitment while the offender gets treatment. It also suggests that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program move some of its lower-risk residents into a cheaper alternative program, potentially including low-functioning offenders who may never complete the current treatment program.
–Security ate up 45 percent of the program’s cost, while treatment accounted for12 percent. But the overall cost is in line with other civil commitment programs around the country.
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