Releasing Sex Offenders

By KBJR News 1

November 18, 2010 Updated Nov 18, 2010 at 9:21 AM CDT

Gary Allen Mattson was 19 when he sexually molested a 3 year old girl.

He's 39 now and he has not been free for one day in all those 20 years.

"I can understand having empathy for victims, I'm all for that, a thousand percent, but what I cannot understand, the Gary Mattson you see sitting in front of you right now is not the same Gary Mattson that came in 95' okay," says Mattson.

When the Sexual Psychopathic Treatment Center opened in 1994 a special panel, appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, was tasked with civilly committing sex offenders they believed were sexually dangerous with a strong propensity to re-offend.

The program began with a handful of men, housed in a secure treatment hospital in St. Peter, Minnesota.

By 2000, the population had grown to 149 sex offenders and by 2010 there were 552 residents housed in a new secure treatment center in Moose Lake.

Project leaders say, if things go on the way they are, there will be nearly a thousand sex offenders in the program by 2016.

The number of commitments to the Minnesota Sex Offenders Program has gone up dramatically.

Dan Cain runs an organization out of the Twin Cities that works to rehabilitate sex offenders on their release.

He's concerned that the state sex offender treatment program, which hasn't successfully treated and released one man, is failing in its mission.

"It begs a question if you have a treatment program then there's a presumption that somebody's going to get well and be done being treated at some point. And so far that's not been the case," says Cain.

Cain feels the civil commitment program started with the right idea, locking up sex offenders who pose an on-going sexual danger to the public.

But he says based on community hysteria the program has expanded way beyond that.

"Over time, the definition of sex offender has broadened to include a lot of behaviors that are not what most people think of when you think of a sex offender," says Cain.

Decisions on which sex offenders should be civilly committed are now made at the county level and some say political pressure to throw the book at sex offenders has created a program with no clearly delineated way to determine which offenders should be committed and which should be released.

A Corrections Department map shows where sex offenders live free in various communities, and a listing of their crimes shows a variety of sex offenses, ranging from minor to extremely serious sex crimes.

Dan Cain explains that a civil commitment is based more on the attitude of the offender than the crime he committed.

"Predatory rapists may not actually wind up committed to MSOP if they are compliant, go through treatment, show remorse, admit their crime," says Cain.

And then there's the cost.

As more sex offenders have been committed the costs have gone up exponentially.

In 2004 the state spent $20 million on the program, in 2009 that cost had exploded to close to $71 million.

It costs about $330 a day to keep someone in the Sex Offender Program, compared to $89 a day in prison.

Now program leaders say the recently expanded Moose Lake facility will be full by 2011 and Governor Pawlenty has asked for another near $90 million to fund further expansion.

Facing a near $6 billion budget shortfall, many believe the expense of the Minnesota state program alone is reason enough to make changes.