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Legislative Audit Commission Meeting


March 11, 2011

Members Present:

Representative Michael Beard Senator David Hann
Representative Sondra Erickson    Senator Claire Robling
Representative Rick Hansen  
Representative Mary Liz Holberg  
Representative Steve Simon

Members Absent:

Representative Phyllis Kahn    Senator James Metzen
Senator Mike Parry
Senator Roger Reinert
Senator Ann H. Rest

Other Members:

Representative Tony Cornish
Representative Bill Hilty

Representative Michael Beard, Chair, called the Legislative Audit Commission (LAC) meeting to order at 10:01 a.m. Representative Beard said the purpose of the meeting was to release the evaluation, Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders.

Representative Beard introduced Jim Nobles, Legislative Auditor. Mr. Nobles said that one of the state’s most important public safety roles is to protect the public from sex offenders. He said that this report being released is both a report on civil commitment and the sex offender program. Mr. Nobles introduced John Yunker, manager for the Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders evaluation. Mr. Yunker said that the major findings of the evaluation were 1) the number of civilly committed sex offenders nearly quadrupled in the last ten years and is expected to double in the next decade; 2) of the 20 states with programs, Minnesota has the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita; 3) the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) costs $120,000 per offender annually, or about three times the costs of incarceration; 4) there is significant variation across the state in commitment practices, especially among county attorneys; 5) some sex offenders who are being committed may have a lower risk of recidivism than others who are being released from prison; 6) Minnesota lacks alternatives besides civil commitment and release from prison; and 7) MSOP has worked to address security and clinical problems, but still needs to increase the number of treatment hours provided. He said that an offender must complete the treatment program before they can be released and no one has ever been released. Mr. Yunker said there are no facilities currently available besides high security facilities; however, some civilly committed sex offenders may be suitable for placement in an alternative setting provided there is sufficient supervision, monitoring, and consequences for violations. Mr. Yunker said that the evaluation recommends the following for the Legislature: 1) direct the Department of Human Services (DHS) and MSOP to develop a plan for alternative facilities and a stay of commitment option; 2) direct DHS to convene a task force to consider changes in the civil commitment standard and process; 3) direct the Department of Corrections to study recidivism rates of offenders who have been referred but not committed; 4) direct DHS to develop a proposal for separating civil commitment statutes for sex offenders from those for other populations; and 5) eliminate the 60-day review of initial commitments. He said the evaluation also recommends that MSOP: 1) provide more treatment hours per week; 2) create an incremental privilege system to increase client motivation; 3) train staff to place enough specific detail in periodic client reviews to provide meaningful feedback to clients and others; and 4) complete the treatment manual to provide specific guidance to staff on the use of assessment tools.

Representative Beard asked Anne Barry, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Human Services (DHS), to address the commission. Ms. Barry explained that one of her main duties is to follow up on any recommendations made by the OLA. She thanked OLA for their very thorough work on the report. Ms. Barry said that the department is committed in working with the Legislature to provide leadership, expertise, and information on sex offender civil commitment to help implement the report’s legislative recommendations. She said that DHS also agrees with the recommendation that MSOP needs to increase treatment hours to clients.

Representative Beard welcomed William Donnay, Director, Risk Assessment/Community Notification Unit, Department of Corrections, to address the commission. Mr. Donnay explained that one of the duties of his department is to screen offenders prior to their release. He also thanked OLA for their work and said the department looks forward to any changes that may come from their work.

Representative Beard thanked Mr. Nobles and his staff for their work on the evaluation. Mr. Nobles reminded the members that this evaluation was the last of the reports that were chosen through the topic selection process. And that OLA is beginning the process for choosing new topics for next year.

With no further business, Representative Beard adjourned the meeting at 11:34 a.m.

Representative Michael Beard, Chair

Shelly Watterud, Recording Secretary

Office of the Legislative Auditor ♦ Room 140, 658 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55155