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July 2, 2016

"Should a juvenile sex offender be locked up indefinitely?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this PBS Newshour segment, which is focused on Minnesota's experiences with indefinite commitment of sex offenders.  Here is a segment of the segment:

Elizabeth Letourneau is one of the nation’s leading experts on juvenile sex offenders. She directs the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at John Hopkins University.  She says civilly committing juvenile sex offenders makes little sense, first because it’s incredibly costly. Minnesota spends about $125,000 per offender per year, which is roughly triple the cost of regular prison.

But, most importantly, she says it doesn’t make sense because juvenile offenders are likely not lifetime offenders.  "Among youth who are adjudicated for a sexual offense, so they have been arrested, processed, 97 percent to 98 percent will not reoffend sexually.  So, truly, the vast majority ... if they are caught committing a sexual offense, will not do it again."

Emily Piper is the commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services, which oversees the state’s sex offender program.  She says only 4 percent of Minnesota’s registered sex offenders are currently civilly committed, and she argues the state is rightly incarcerating the most troubling of those....

In 2011, a class-action lawsuit was brought against the state by a group of offenders in Minnesota’s program, including Craig Bolte, arguing they were not getting any meaningful treatment and were instead being held indefinitely.

And, last year, federal district judge in St. Paul sided with them, saying that Minnesota’s sex offender program was unconstitutional, ruling “It’s a punitive system that segregates and indefinitely detains a class of potentially dangerous individuals without the safeguards of the criminal justice system.”

The state has appealed the decision, and a ruling is expected this fall.  In the meantime, state officials say they have already started making changes.  Five offenders have been moved into less restrictive settings, and new reviews are being done of all offenders to determine who’s a potential candidate for release and who isn’t.

Even Dru Sjodin’s mother, Linda Walker, admits that maybe some juvenile cases should be reexamined, but she hopes that, in all its reforms, Minnesota will err on the side of caution before releasing anyone.

July 2, 2016 at 11:06 AM | Permalink


Somewhat unfortunate last name.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 2, 2016 12:47:15 PM

It's a wonder that the detainees at Moose Lake, MN, have not staged any major uprisings like inmates at Attica did almost fifty years ago. Where is the incentive for these detainees to behave themselves towards staff and guards when there is no hope for release or any other positive reinforcements? What would they have to lose if these detainees should one day rise up in mutiny against Moose Lake?

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 2, 2016 1:09:33 PM

"Minnesota will err on the side of caution before releasing anyone." ?? Mass killer Mateen was questioned by the FBI at least 3 times and found to be not a threat. When will our societal witch hunt of so called sex offenders end?

Posted by: tommyc | Jul 2, 2016 2:01:40 PM

Tommyc: It won't ever end. It's the perfect storm. The media perpetrates the myths, law enforcement's only complaint seems to be over housing restrictions, and DA's have an almost 100% conviction rate (Unless you're in Oklahoma - where it's 100%). It's ironic, isn't it, that the percentage of juvenile sex offenders who reoffend is almost the same as adult sex offenders who reoffend?

Posted by: itllneverend | Jul 2, 2016 9:43:25 PM

Unless someone is a violent sexual predator with no chance or rehabilitation ,there is no reason to lock them up indefinitely, juvenile or adult. Let them serve their time and then be FREE, that means NO REGISTRY.

I'm glad the judge in St. Paul sided with the offenders, however, his comment that "it's a punitive system that segregates and indefinitely detains a class of potentially dangerous individuals without the safeguards of the criminal justice system" is alittle troubling in that ANYONE is potentially dangerous, not just sex offenders. Infact, sex offenders, adult and juvenile, have a very low rate of recidivism. Past offences shouldn't be automatic predictablity of future offending.

Posted by: kat | Jul 3, 2016 10:05:43 AM

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