On Sunday, July 18, 2021, Women Against Registry joined anti-registry activists and anti-civil commitment activists representing five Midwestern states in an outdoor community rally at the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St. Paul. The event was compiled by the Voices of OCEAN, a coalition of family members and loved ones of those indefinitely detained at the Minnesota PreCrime Preventative Detention Facility (Also known as MSOP). About 75 persons were in attendance, including a brief visit from a Minnesota legislator and a speech from Minnesota Supreme Court candidate Michelle McDonald.
The #EndMSOP campaign has increased in intensity and visibility in recent months, including two hunger strikes (the latter ending just before the rally) and a “honk-in” event outside the Moose Lake program as a show of solidarity. This outdoor conference was an invitation to start a dialogue with the media and legislators with the ultimate goal of closing down the controversial MSOP.
The morning before the event, three members of the OCEAN group attended the Pride March, a weeklong event for the LGBTQ+ community, in hopes of drawing attendees to support the #EndMSOP rally. According to one of the OCEAN members, they had signed up about 200 people to their email list for future events.
The evening before the event, Anti-Registry activists visited the capitol grounds. A group of individuals had gathered in honor of John Lewis, the civil rights advocate who passed away a year ago. We had struck up a conversation with two older white women holding “Black Lives Matter” signs. After explaining our purpose for visiting the capitol, there was some initial interest, but one of the women had soured to the discussion when civil commitment was mentioned. Upon mentioning a juvenile placed in civil commitment, the response was a curt, “Well, what did he do to get locked up?” It is disappointing to see other justice reformists balk at the call to end civil commitment, so must make even other criminal justice advocates understand the civil commitment issue should also become a part of justice reform.
Setup began the morning of the event; equipment was rented for the event, and free food was offered to attendees. Many folks brought handmade signs, while Derek Logue brought a werewolf display holding a sign inscribed with the words, “Minnesota Created a Monster. #EndMSOP”. Brochures had been created for the event, some of which were used for the previous day’s Pride Day event.
The conference began with introductions from Sara from the core group of the organization.
Derek Logue from OnceFallen.com gave a brief summary of the problems with the MSOP. Even though 20 states have civil commitment laws, Minnesota stands out as the worst in the nation. There are currently about 740 civil detainees, second only to California, and first by far if counting per capita. Between 1993 and 2012, no one had been released from the MSOP. After a class action suit was filed, the MSOP finally began offering conditional releases to a select few detainees. As of 2021, only 14 detainees earned a full release, while 88 detainees “graduated” the program through death. Apathy and high staff turnover rates leads to constant treatment disruptions, ensuring few detainees ever complete the program. The MSOP is both costly (at $96 million, or $393 per inmate per day) and ineffective. As with other issues in criminal justice, racial and sexual minorities are overly represented in the MSOP population. Because of the high turnover rate and apathy from MSOP staff, those in the program rarely, if ever, have a chance to graduate from the program.
To show that those in civil commitment centers across America stand in unison with the #EndMSOP campaign and to offer hope for release, Vicki Henry used her speaking time to share a message from Robert Turner, a former civil detainee in California, who said, “What got me out was the fact that I was assigned to get new evaluations at all – and that was the result of a court decision in favor of an entirely different compatriot, someone who challenged the prevailing application of our “sexually violent predator” law in state court. Without that challenge, without his will and his determination to take on the system, to file his paperwork, and to continue his appeal with motions and hearings, until a final victory won him a brand-new set of evaluations – without his fight, I might never have secured getting my own new evaluations from the two psychologists forced by that court decision to look at me with a fresh set of eyes, rather than recycling their old evaluations as they had been year after year, drawing the same conclusions based on the same old data from their past evaluations.”
Rita Wahl reminded us that we are still dealing with human beings. “Human beings need to treat other human beings in a more humane way… You don’t have to be guilty of a sex offense; you just have to be accused of a sex offense and then you are treated as a monster for the rest of your life.”
As the event was taking place, a few passersby stopped to listen to the message. A couple of them had expressed genuine interest in the message. One woman told those manning the brochures table she was “unaware this is happening” and “how sad” and took multiple copies of every brochure to share.
The Capitol Conference was followed by a trip to the nearby Governor’s Residence. According to OCEAN, the Governor had been escorted away as if he feared seeing people demanding real change.
Three of the local media stations conducted interviews of the event and even followed the OCEAN group to the Governor’s Residence, but none of the news stories had been posted online as of this writing. It is a disappointing footnote on an otherwise positive day.