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Column: Reform sex offender program

Many legislators are receiving criticism for not supporting the governor's bonding request to spend $89 million to expand the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake.

Make no mistake about it, these dangerous offenders need to be locked up. However, spending money to expand MSOP, a failed treatment program, is not the solution Minnesota needs, especially in this dismal economy.

The MSOP was established in 1993 for sex offenders who were deemed too dangerous to be released into the public after they served their prison sentence. Instead, they were civilly committed to this program to receive sex offender "treatment."

Unfortunately, no offender has ever successfully completed this treatment, so they remain locked up in this secure hospital until they die, at a taxpayer cost of over $300 per patient per day.

In 2003, the number of civilly committed sex offenders began to dramatically increase. This was the year that Alfonso Rodriguez, a sex offender released after serving his prison sentence, murdered Dru Sjodin.

Before this occurrence, there were 199 men in the program. Today, there's around 550.

Now, Minnesota has the highest percentage of civilly committed sex offenders per capita in the United States. Annual costs of operating the program have also skyrocketed to over $70 million per year.

The governor's bonding proposal would double the capacity of MSOP facility in Moose Lake, adding 400 beds and more treatment infrastructure for the sex offenders. Beyond these upfront construction costs, this expansion would cost Minnesotans an additional $45 million a year to operate by 2012.

Clearly, costs of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program are spiraling out of control, and Minnesotans are receiving little benefit.

Yes, these sex offenders are being kept locked up and off the streets -- something I completely support and agree must occur -- but this same goal could be accomplished by more efficient and much less expensive means.

For example, the governor's proposal to double prison sentences for serious sex offenders is something worth examining, as it costs only $63 per day to house a prisoner in jail.

This is substantially cheaper than the $325 per day being spent to provide these civilly committed offenders with treatment that doesn't even work.

Before we commit to spending hundreds of millions more of state dollars on expanding MSOP, we need to start thinking about reforms. Keeping public safety at the forefront, we need to study our options for dealing with these sex offenders.

We should study what other states are doing with their serious offenders, what incarceration or supervision programs have been proven effective, and where cost savings could be realized.

In this economic climate with billion dollar-plus budget deficits, it's the fiscally prudent thing to do.

Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, can be reached at (651) 385-7649 or sen.steve.murphy@senate.mn.

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