By Chris Serres . . . A protracted case challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota’s system for treating sex offenders outside prison has gained new life after a federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled that claims contesting the program’s unusual conditions of confinement can move forward.
In a decision released Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit determined that a review of allegations that clients of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) were subjected to improper punishment and inadequate treatment should proceed. The decision sets the stage for another pitched debate over the future of the program, which confines more than 730 men in prisonlike treatment centers long after their criminal sentences have ended.
The ruling comes nearly a decade after a group of civilly committed sex offenders sued the state, arguing during a six-week trial that Minnesota’s system violated their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution by depriving them of access to the courts and other basic safeguards found in the criminal justice system.
It also comes following unrest at the Moose Lake treatment center, where offenders recently went on a two-week hunger strike to protest their indefinite confinements and demand a clear path toward release into the community.
Some men have been held at the MSOP treatment centers for years or even decades after completing their prison terms — effectively turning the program into what critics say is a de facto life sentence.