The Potluck

Protesters to rally in St. Paul against Minnesota’s sex offender treatment program

By: - July 12, 2021 4:00 pm

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People opposed to Minnesota’s sex offender treatment program plan to rally in St. Paul Sunday to demand lawmakers phase out the program.

Clients of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and their relatives are calling for “an end to an indefinite detention program they believe is an unconstitutional death sentence” at facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter, according to a news release from organizers.

Most of the 700-some people detained at the prisonlike facilities already served sentences for sex offenses. Minnesota law allows courts to involuntarily commit people for treatment after completing prison sentences if they’re deemed to be at high risk of reoffending.

Critics of the program say it becomes a life sentence for those committed. Some people are held for decades, and just 14 clients have been discharged with no conditions since the program was established in 1994. Forty-eight have been granted provisional discharge.

Opposition to the program heated up during the pandemic as clients protested conditions that led to a large COVID-19 outbreak over the winter as well as the program itself. 

Nearly 30 Moose Lake clients are participating in a hunger strike that started July 4 — the facility’s second hunger strike this year — according to organizers of the opposition efforts. On July 11, roughly 30 people drove to the Moose Lake facility for a “honk-in” in support of the strikers, said David Boehnke, an organizer from End MSOP. 

The rally Sunday will start with a “community conversation” at the state Capitol about the movement to end preventative detention. Demonstrators will then move to the Governor’s Mansion. Opponents of the program are calling on Gov. Tim Walz to issue an executive order closing the program or for a state legislator to pledge to sponsor a bill to shut it down in the upcoming session, Boehnke said.

The program has been the subject of a lengthy legal battle since a group of clients sued the state nearly 10 years ago, alleging the program violated their due process rights. A federal court will review conditions of confinement in the program, after an appeals court in February reversed a ruling in favor of the state.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the issues a federal court will review in a lawsuit over the program.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.