ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — For the first time, we’re hearing from patients in Minnesota’s sex offender program. They say the state’s system of treatment is broken.

It’s the second week of testimony in the class action lawsuit, which seeks to have the program ruled unconstitutional. Fourteen sex offenders now in treatment are suing the state. They claim placement in the program equates to a life term with no chance of release.

In the program’s 20-plus years, more than 700 sex offenders have been civilly committed. But only three have been released from treatment.

After hearing from the expert witnesses who weighed in on the sex offender treatment program, we’re now hearing from those civilly committed, the plaintiffs who say they’ve lost any hope of ever getting out.

When Dennis Steiner pleaded guilty to having sex with young boys back in 1992, he was told he’d spend four years of treatment in St. Peter’s Sex Offender Program. Twenty three years later, he’s still waiting for release.

“Mr. Steiner is going to testify of the number of times the program has changed and the setback and frustrations with the program,” Attorney Dan Gustafson said.

Steiner is one of 14 sex offenders, suing the state for alleged unconstitutional civil commitments.

“The system has not given him an opportunity to progress and be reintegrated into the community and how difficult and despairing it is,” Gustafson said.

In 1996, he was moved to Moose Lake after nearly completing treatment. That’s when Steiner said he was forced to start all over again, saying, “The program changed four to five times over my (his) 23 years.”

And when asked how many therapists he’s had, Steiner answered, “24 or so.”

On the state’s cross examination, Steiner admitted having “31 reported victims between the ages of 8 and 16.”

And his offense cycle was triggered by “loneliness and a sense of power and control.”

Steiner petitioned for release at least three times, and each time was denied. Until last month, when he was told he’d be transitioned to a step down program at St. Peter. When asked why now, he said because of this lawsuit.

Bill Hudson

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