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.


  • A couple things:

    They all have social workers located at the county in which they last lived freely. These social workers see their job as to protect the public and make sure that these patients are never released. Most social workers act on behalf of their clients, but not these.

    Under the current administration, there is a strong movement to get some of these offenders released. The administration understands there are constitutional issues at stake and that they need to move patients back into the community. I recently met a woman whos complete job was to facilitate these moves. I can try and find her name if anyone wants it. She works for the Dept. of Human Services.

    And a final way they are treated like prisioners: they are required to pay for some of their basic needs. To do so they must work the only jobs available or take welfare checks. The jobs pay such a low amount, many are able to both. Should people working in a rehab facility make at least minumum wage?

  • BJ

    @ Kassie – cool blog.

  • We are stuck as a Society. We do not know what to do with sexual offenders after they serve their sentence. Murderers can apparently be sent back into society with a minimum amount of worry about repeat offense. Rapists, however, are branded in a much more permanent manner.

    I assume rapists are painted as a much more horrid person simple due to their victims still being alive and visible. Murder someone & the victim is out of sight, out of mind. Rape someone and the victim is still there, providing a concrete example of what will happen if the criminal rapes again. We, as a Society, feel more guilty by letting the rapist go.

    We need to make a collective decision what to do with these people, rather than fumble around like idiots. They may repeat offend; they may not. They are no different than any other kind of criminal in that respect.

    What are we doing giving incarcerated people welfare? If the State refuses to let them go … well, the State needs to pay for their keep if we’re violating their Constitutional Rights.

  • GregS

    I get a kick out of the list.

    Obviously, it is the product of people with both too much time on their hands and a deep moral outrage that despite whatever horrors they have inflicted upon others, that THEY should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.

    The problem here is one of language and the surreal mechanizations of the Sentencing Commission.

    Perhaps it is time to revive the ancient custom of exile.

    Ever wonder why God made the Aleutians?

  • Bob Collins

    The question of whether the rights of the individual are equal to the rights of the many is an old one. But Greg hints on the problem — the place to solve the problem is in the sentencing system. But the sentencing system doesn’t solve the problem, so politicians created the sexual offenders law to solve it.

    The problem is the description of what they’re doing is inherently dishonest. Why call it a treatment program when everyone knows it’s not? It’s a way to get them off the streets.

    Why not just SAY “there are times when we’re going to put people away without a trial because we think they might commit more crimes?”

    The question asked earlier though is a relevant one? WHY stop at sex offenders?

  • Elizabeth, we aren’t giving incarcerated people welfare, we are giving patients in an involuntary hospital program welfare. Specifically they get a small amount of money, like $80 a month, for “personal needs.”

    And the question is what Bob says, why stop there? Under current conditions if a sex offender moves in next to me I’m notified, that person must let the state know where they are at all times, and I’m told the nature of the crime. If a drug dealer, gang member or murderer moves in next to me, I get to know nothing.

    My neighborhood has a lot of gang members. Many of them have done time. The police know they are gang members, but they don’t go door to door letting us know who they are and the crimes they have committed. Additionally, gang members don’t stop being gang members when they go to jail. Most will go right back to their gang and committing crimes when they get out. They are often just as mentally ill as the sex offenders. Why can’t we lock them up too?

    We can’t lock them up after they serve their sentence because it is UNCONSTIUTIONAL and a violation of basic human rights. Want to keep a sex offender in jail for the rest of their life? Then change the laws to make that the punishment. Don’t pull some BS where they are then committed in a rehab center that doesn’t try to rehab them.

  • Lindsey

    Great post Bob. Thanks for starting a conversation about this issue.

    These “patients” have been complaining about these TVs (and by extension their “treatment” in the “recovery program”) for years. It wasn’t until the media became involved that the Governor’s Office or anyone else decided to act. I’m sure the people who are planning to run for Governor (or President) would hate to have a timely sex offender scandal on their hands….

  • Donald

    This is, at least to me, clearly a social problem. Everyone wants the sex offender put away or killed to solve the problem. It does not help that it is constantly being falsely reported that sex offenders can not be rehabilitated and I base my proof on the fact of the Sex Offender Recidivism in Minnesota report put out by the Department of Corrections which clearly shows that of all the criminal types Sex Offenders have by far the best results for rehabilitation. Look for yourself at;

    As further proof that this is a social issue I will summit as further evidence the fact that the vast majority of sex offenders are societies poorest and least able to defend themselves by buying justice, which is in direct vilation of MN Constitution, Article 8.

    As further proof, let be known that at any one time in the U.S.A. there are over 3 million students suffering sexual abuse from school employees. That statistic I got from a program on child abuse on TPT channel 2.

    It only take a accusation and a zealous prosecutor to become a sex offender and anyone who is not wealthy socially connected is a easy target. If the wealthy are not a danger then why are the poor?