A couple of helpful readers let me know about this wonderful series in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the Minnesota's post-incarceration institutionalization program. The story is divided into four parts on the paper's website and you can find those links here, here, here, and here. Here are some interesting excerpts pulled from various sections of the four parts:
In the 14 years since Minnesota's Sexually Dangerous Persons Act cleared the way for the state to detain hundreds of paroled sex offenders in prison-like treatment centers, just 24 men have met what has proved to be the only acceptable standard for release.
"We would say, 'Another one completed treatment,'" said Andrew Babcock, a former guard and counselor in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP)....
Swedeen's case illustrates the difficulty judges face in deciding sex-offender civil commitments in Minnesota. They are being asked to commit an ever greater variety of offenders to indefinite, prison-like confinement, based on the educated guesses of a small group of psychologists paid to employ the fallible science of risk assessment. Even some judges say the applicable law is so broad that it can be used to send almost anyone with a sex-crime conviction to the MSOP....
The problem, critics say, is that disorders such as antisocial or narcissistic personality, which have been used under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act to justify commitments of offenders, are prevalent in any group of criminals and not unheard-of in non-criminals.
"Using that standard, you could commit a lot of bank robbers," said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University and a critic of civilly committing sex offenders. "It can be a slippery slope...."
Unlike other states with similar systems, no one in Minnesota has been released from treatment.
That raises some important questions about whether this is really a treatment program or a shadow prison system.
This project was not particularly popular in our newsroom. No one wants to see another case like that of Dru Sjodin, who was murdered in 2003 by a recently released sex offender. Her case resulted in a surge in the number of offenders sent to the program. Earlier that year, controversy over the possibility of someday easing certain offenders back into the community prompted Gov. Tim Pawlenty to issue an order that no one be released unless required by law or by a court. That order still stands, and Pawlenty declined to answer questions about the system.
"There's a justifiable reaction to these crimes from the public and state officials -- never again," said Tom Buckingham, a senior editor who worked on this project. "But if the MSOP is supposed to be the answer to 'never again,' it has to have accountability and some demonstrable success. Otherwise, the courts could rule at some point that it's merely a parallel prison system that must be disbanded.''
The story really covers the major policy problems with these institutionalization programs and does so in a manner rare in mainstream journalism. I highly recommend checking out all of the links for yourself.