Part of the problem facing elected officials who realize that America’s incarceration problem needs attention is that if even one prisoner released reoffends, their career in public office will be essentially over. Such is the problem for the Minnesota Senate who must reform their policy for detaining sex offenders “or risk having it dismantled by a federal judge,” according to the StarTribune. Under the current system, sex offenders are often involuntarily held long after their prison sentences are over under a practice called “civil committment.”
According to Reason, the program “is structured in such a way that shortly before a sex offender is released from prison, a judge can – with less burden of proof than is required in criminal cases – order that the offender continue to be held in a treatment facility aimed at rehabilitating them. The program has been in place for 18 years and only one sex offender has been conditionally released, around 700 remain incarcerated.
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Rubén Rosario, writing for TwinCities.com, says, “[a]s a survivor of childhood sex abuse, I can say that I detest these types of criminals and offenders. I know what these predators rob from their victims. But another thing I detest is political grandstanding.” Despite his personal feelings toward these offenders, Rosario is even more troubled that these offenders—some convicted as juveniles—are “essentially serving life sentences without parole.” He also worries that political cowardice will win out and the judge will be forced to release all of those detained.
There is a critical hearing for the program on December 18, and the Minnesota Senate is running out of time. Governor Mark Dayton’s controversial decision to suspend all future releases while the program is being reviewed has, according to the StarTribune, “added urgency to the issue.” A similar problem in California in 2011 saw a judge release 30,000 inmates to reduce prison overcrowding. These sort of broad strokes are rarely preferable to targeted, specific, but ultimately politically risky reforms.