Patients or prisoners?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s reaction to a Star Tribune story on TVs for sex offenders confirms the reality of Minnesota’s “treatment program” for sex offenders — it’s really just a jail for people who haven’t been charged or convicted of crimes they might commit in the future.

“They don’t need 50-inch, flat-screen plasma televisions for sex offenders,” Pawlenty said today of the $1,576 TVs in the Moose Lake facility.”Clearly, somebody just made a bonehead decision, and I’m going to reverse it.”

The reversal comes over the objection of some of the staff at the facility who say there is a clinical benefit to the TVs. Indeed, the Associated Press refers to the people housed in the facility as “patients,” not inmates.

“Patients” in Minnesota’s sex offender “treatment” program have already served their jail time. They’re housed under the guise of being in treatment, even though experts say there is no evidence that there’s a treatment for sex offenders, and nobody who was committed under state law has ever come out of the program.

Dennis Linehan came closest. In 1965, Linehan kidnapped, raped, and killed a Minnesota teenager, was sentenced to 40 years in prison, escaped and was captured after sexually molesting a 12-year-old in Michigan. When he was scheduled for supervised release in 1994, then Gov. Arne Carlson ordered him held until he could get the Legislature to enact the Sexually Dangerous Persons Law, which allows Minnesota to lock up people who haven’t been charged, under the theory — upheld by the courts — that the rights of the public outweigh the rights of the individual.

The Moose Lake “treatment” facility is, in fact, a wing of a prison. Whether the “patients” are pampered — as suggested by the Star Tribune’s TV story — is a matter of some dispute, especially considering a complaint from the ACLU earlier this year:

* Detainees are subjected to strip searches and are handcuffed and shackled as part of standard operating procedure whenever detainees are transported (for example, to attend patient advisory committee meetings at the MSOP facility) and after contact visits in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

* Detainees’ incoming legal mail has, on numerous occasions, been opened outside the presence of the detainee in violation of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

* Detainees allege that they are not allowed incoming calls and that their calls are monitored in violation of their First Amendment right to telephone access.

* Detainees are denied their right to Procedural Due Process by being deprived of their access to freely move around the Annex without escorts, and, consequently, access to the privileges afforded to all other civilly committed detainees including daily access to the gym, access to library services, the ability to communicate with other Annex detainees, and free access to outside activities. The conditions imposed on Detainees are similar to what the Minnesota Department of Corrections imposes on inmates who are in Administrative Segregation. Inmates in A-Seg are entitled to procedural due process before being housed in that restrictive setting.

* Detainees are subjected to potentially severe health risks due to inadequate sanitation in violation of their Eighth Amendment rights includinng:

1. Communal showers and bathrooms are only cleaned once a day;

2. Urine and fecal matter are frequently found on the bathroom floor or toilet seats;

3. No sanitizer is readily available to disinfect the floors and toilet seats;

4. Dining room tables are not adequately sanitized prior to serving each meal;

5. Mops and brooms used to clean the bathrooms and showers are also used to clean cells, thereby spreading germs to their cells;

6. Towels, blankets and cleaning rags are washed in one unit washer and the water does not reach a temperature needed to properly sanitize them.

* Detainees who had purchased 20 inch televisions at the Annex had their property seized and were forced to send them out of the facility at their own expense to comply with a MNDOC rule allowing only 13 inch clear televisions on the Moose Lake prison property.

* MSOP retaliated against two of the plaintiffs (Beaulieu and Yazzie) for their participation in litigation challenging their access to religious activities while civilly committed to the MSOP. The retaliation took the form of a reduction in their access to religious services, attorneys, the court and visitation by family; unreasonable restraint of Yazzie leading to injury; unreasonable searches of Beaulieu’s property; and the seizure and copying of Beaulieu’s legal papers.

“It has to be treated like a hospital — it is not a prison,” said Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth.