Outbreak fuels long-simmering tensions over civil commitment after sentences.
A group of sex offenders at a northern Minnesota treatment center is refusing to attend therapy sessions, while others are wearing black clothing as a show of solidarity, amid growing unrest after three men housed there died and scores more were sickened by the novel coronavirus.
The acts of defiance were organized to call attention to what offenders see as poor infection-control practices and the historically low rate of release from the state’s prisonlike treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Most of the nearly 740 offenders held at the centers have completed prison sentences for sexual offenses but remain locked up for years or even decades under Minnesota’s civil commitment law.
Tensions have been rising for months over the program’s response to a large outbreak of COVID-19 within the state-operated treatment program, including complaints that many staff members and clients weren’t wearing masks in common areas or remaining apart.
Since the start of the pandemic, 101 staff members and 88 clients at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) have had confirmed COVID-19 infections. At least three clients have died at the Moose Lake center since early December, and periodic lockdowns have been imposed to prevent the virus’ spread in the sprawling complex.
“It was a catastrophe waiting to happen, and it did,” said Matthew Feeney, 51, a Moose Lake client who contracted the virus last fall. “MSOP had nine months to see and watch the rest of the world prepare, yet their plan didn’t isolate people who had contact with known infectious people.”