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National

MN: Minnesota Senate passes bill to tighten sex offender, mental health commitment rules

[startribune.com 4/23/18]

A proposal that would make it more difficult to release convicted sex offenders and people with mental illness is gaining new momentum at the Minnesota Capitol, as the state faces growing legal pressure to free some patients from its embattled sex offender program.

The proposal comes in direct response to a court decision earlier this year that permitted the full discharge of a 51-year-old sex offender, Kirk A. Fugelseth, who has admitted to molesting more than 30 boys and girls and who was confined to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).

“It is simply unbelievable that Minnesota’s safety has been put in jeopardy by the courts,” Sen. Warren Limmer, the measure’s sponsor, said Monday, shortly before the Senate overwhelmingly approved the proposal. “This is not a population that should be released quickly and in one fell swoop.”

A state Court of Appeals panel ruled in January that Fugelseth no longer requires inpatient treatment or supervision for a sexual disorder, and in an unusual decision, approved his release without any conditions. The decision was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court earlier in April. Fugelseth is only the second person ever to be fully released from the MSOP in its 24-year history.

The bill from Limmer, a Republican from Maple Grove, would establish a higher standard for sex offenders and people committed as mentally ill and dangerous who are seeking an unconditional release.

There are about 140 civilly committed sex offenders, and another 300 people committed as mentally ill and dangerous, who could petition the courts for full and unconditional discharge based on the recent court ruling, state officials said. This includes 21 sex offenders who have been approved for conditional release from the MSOP, but are currently living under strict surveillance in the community.

Acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson, who spoke in support of the measure at Monday’s news conference, urged immediate action. Unless the law is changed, dangerous offenders could start being approved by the courts for unconditional release into the community within “days or weeks,” he said.

Minnesota is one of 20 states that operate a civil commitment system for sex offenders, which allows the state to confine people indefinitely after they have completed their prison terms. The system has been criticized in recent years for locking up too many offenders for too long, and state judicial panels have been approving a record number for conditional release.

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