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Inmates Seek Release Amid Sex Offender Program Controversy

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(credit: CBS) Esme Murphy
Esme Murphy, a reporter and Sunday morning anchor for WCCO-TV, h...
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MOOSE LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) – In Minnesota, there are 700 sex offenders kept away in indefinite treatment, more than in any other state. A federal judge warned that some of those men need to be let go because parts of the program are unconstitutional.

While the offenders are technically patients or clients of the state, they are housed in maximum security prison-type settings at Moose Lake and St. Peter. WCCO-TV’s Esme Murphy went inside the Moose Lake facility to meet three men deemed sexual predators who could someday be free.

Ninety miles north of the Twin Cities in Moose Lake sits a sprawling fortress. It is home to 500 of the men that Minnesota courts have deemed sexually dangerous.

In 1992, Dennis Stiener, who is now 66, was facing charges of having sex with five teenage boys. He took a plea bargain that sent him to St. Peter for four years of treatment. But when that time was up, a court ruled he was still sexually dangerous, so he was civilly committed to Moose Lake, where he’s been for 23 years now.

“I don’t have urges anymore,” Steiner said.

Craig Bolte, 26, was sent to a juvenile facility when he was 15 after he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old female relative.

“I am not the kid that I was when I committed those crimes,” Bolte said.

Court records show as a young teenager he propositioned another 11-year-old girl and threatened her father. After serving four years in a juvenile facility, a court ruled Bolte was still dangerous and he was civilly committed at the age of 19.

“I started hearing from a lot other guys,” Bolte said. “‘Haven’t you heard about this place? No one gets out. No one ever goes home.’ I was essentially told all my hopes and dreams are done.”

In the 20-year history of the program, only one person out of the 700 committed has ever been released. The offenders are suing the state, arguing the program is unconstitutional. In rulings, a federal judge sided with them, saying the state must make changes or else the federal courts will act, potentially releasing numerous offenders.

To try and avoid federal court intervention, the state has proposed releasing offenders, starting with Thomas Duvall, a two-time convicted rapist. That release is tied up in court.

Peter Lonergran, 52, served more than 22 years in prison after being convicted in two separate cases of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy.

When his time was up in 2006, he was civilly committed and sent to Moose Lake. Lonergran insists he was wrongly convicted of having oral and anal sex with an 8-year-old boy.

“I went through a civil commitment trial, and they didn’t find me to be a psychopath. They did find me to be a sexually dangerous person,” Lonergran said. “I got news to tell America: the courts don’t always get it right. Sometimes they convict innocent people.”

When asked by Murphy if he was sexually attracted to children, Lonergran said he was not.

“I was attracted to innocence, which unfortunately comes with children,” he said, adding: “I am not trying to rationalize it, but it has been very difficult for me….I feel bad for anything that happened, but it wasn’t due to anything I had done.”

Stiener and Bolte, on the other hand, say they are guilty of all the crimes they are accused of.

“What I did was horribly wrong,” Bolte said.

As the legal battle over what to do with the 700 institutionalized men mounts, so does the cost to taxpayers. While it costs $31,000 a year to house an inmate in a Minnesota prison, it costs more than $113,000 to house a sex offender at Moose Lake. Steiner says it has cost the state of Minnesota $2.3 million alone just to keep him there for 20 years.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services says the higher cost to taxpayers comes because it is a treatment facility, but the men WCCO-TV talked with said treatment is limited.

“In the juvenile system I was getting treatment for 30 hours a week,” Bolte said. “Here you are lucky if you get six hours a week.”

The federal judge who ruled on the treatment program at Moose Lake and St. Peter called it “broken” and said that the state must fix it, but the nature of the fix raises questions even here.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Are any of us redeemable?’ And if we are not, what do you do with us?” Lonergran said.

In his ruling, the federal judge said the state legislature needed to take immediate action, but efforts at the capitol have stalled, setting up the likelihood that the court could soon start freeing some sex offenders.

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