Lawsuit challenges Minnesota Sex Offender Program

By KBJR News 1

November 19, 2013 Updated Nov 20, 2013 at 3:05 PM CDT

Moose Lake, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Civilly committed sex offender Arthur Senty-Haugen says "the conditions of the confinement are unconstitutional."

After only one successful release in the program's 19 year history, directors of the Minnesota Sex Offenders program are considering petitions for up to a dozen men for release into less restrictive settings.

MN Department of Human Services Deputy Director Anne Barry says they are "beginning to look for less restrictive alternatives; when it is safe in the community and safe within our programs, and we are moving ahead down that path."

The impetus for the possible sex offender releases may have come from a lawsuit, filed in 2011 and currently in Federal court for resolution.

Senty-Haugen is a member of the class suit along with 13 other plaintiffs.

The lawsuit claims the entire civil commitment program is illegal because it keeps people locked up, after their prison terms are compete, for crimes they may commit in the future.

Chuck Samuelson Executive Director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, says "you can't put people in jail for crimes they haven't yet committed. There's a presumption of innocence in the state constitution."

Arthur Senty-Haugen has been either in prison or the sex offender treatment program since 1994 when the civil commitment program began.

His criminal history includes sexual assaults against several children and the courts deemed him mentally ill and dangerous.

He's been back to prison twice since being civilly committed including a stint in federal prison for five counts of filing false tax claims while in the Moose Lake facility.

"To me, at the point, at that time, was a way out of MSOP."

Senty-Haugen is still seeking a way out, this time through the federal lawsuit. He formed a group among the MSOP population that has put up billboards talking about the cost of the program.

At $318 a day, for each of the 698 sex offenders in the program, MSOP directors say it costs Minnesota taxpayers more than $81 million a year.

Senty-Haugen's beef with the MSOP system doesn't stop with the cost.

He has also petitioned the court to force program leaders to recognize his marriage to fellow sex offender, 28-year-old Brandon Benson.

They say they were legally married through the mail in Iowa.

Barry says the Department of Human Services doesn't believe it's a legal marriage and is checking with officials in Iowa.

Benson, who also has a history of violent sex offenses, says his marriage to the 46-year-old Senty-Haugen has been very good for him.

"He gives me the better half of me; patience, understanding, care, concern, love."
Both Senty-Haugen and Benson say they should be released, saying the public would be safe if they were on the streets today.

In fact, Senty-Haugen says he doesn't believe he should have been committed to the sex offender treatment center in the first place.

Benson and Senty-Haugen are not among the sex offenders being considered for movement to less restrictive settings but they say they plan to continue their struggle against the system.

Settlement hearings regarding the constitutionality of the program have stalled and the case is now before a federal judge.

In the meantime a panel has been appointed to work toward a compromise that is both legal and safe for the community.

The panel recommendations are expected December 1st.

While the cost per day is $318 per client, due to cost fluctuations the actual budget for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program for the 2013-14 year is $76.7 million.

Barbara Reyelts