Details on Minnesota sex offender program deleted by Pawlenty appointee
A report on Minnesota's sex-offender program delivered to legislators in the final days of the Pawlenty administration was heavily edited by a top political appointee to reflect the former governor's skepticism about the effectiveness of treatmen...
A report on Minnesota's sex-offender program delivered to legislators in the final days of the Pawlenty administration was heavily edited by a top political appointee to reflect the former governor's skepticism about the effectiveness of treatment and to delete arguments for expanded community resources for offenders.
A copy of the original report obtained by the Star Tribune shows more than 35 redactions in 63 pages, including complete paragraphs describing community treatment strategies. The original draft was written by teams of state and community mental health professionals.
Cal Ludeman, a Pawlenty confidant and his commissioner of Human Services, said in an interview that he edited the mandated report because "it was promising too much" and the administration preferred to continue its emphasis on tougher prison sentences for sex offenders.
Ludeman said he did not believe his actions misled legislators, who will have to make funding decisions and policy choices this session on the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).
But Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who served on a task force charged with finding ways to cut the program's costs, said Monday she was angered that the editing, in effect, withheld information from legislators.
Sex-offender treatment is one of the fastest growing expenses in the state budget, she said, and requires urgent attention from lawmakers.
A spokesman said Pawlenty was traveling Monday evening and was not available to comment.
Ludeman also deleted a passage on the need to educate children on sex abuse and violence, and another on ways the Department of Health could help conduct prevention campaigns.
Today, MSOP officials are due to brief a legislative committee about the future of the $64 million program. It currently holds more than 600 offenders - some of them violent, many of them chronic - at secure facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake. Its population is expected to reach more than 1,100 by 2020.
Tug of war
The decision to withhold certain recommendations from legislators comes at a crucial time for the 17-year-old program, which has been buffeted for years between political pressure to confine offenders indefinitely and legal concerns that such a practice is unconstitutional. Last year a special professional review board recommended that two convicted rapists held in St. Peter be provisionally discharged into halfway houses in the Twin Cities. If a state Supreme Court appeals panel this spring approves those recommendations, it would be the first time since the mid-1990's such a decision was made.
Ludeman said Pawlenty's senior staff was aware that he made the deletions late last year to better fit the administration's political philosophy. He said the advisers approved his edited version. He acknowledged that he and Pawlenty spoke frequently about how to manage and treat offenders, but said he did not know whether Pawlenty was aware of his specific redactions.
Ludeman said he believed that his deletions did not leave a "huge void of information."
Asked if legislators might wonder why he edited out information provided by the state's most knowledgeable experts on sex offenders, he said, "I can't answer that - I don't know what they would want to know."
"I think the [final] report was visibly consistent with what the governor's view was," he said. The state can choose between a "corrections environment" for chronic offenders and indefinite confinement in treatment programs, Ludeman said. He added: "What we've been working on is trying to lengthen the stay in corrections" for the most serious offenders.
In the last year of his administration, Pawlenty pushed for first-degree sex offenders to have their sentences doubled - to as much as 25 years - and then use civil commitment mostly as a way to hold offenders even longer.
Berglin responded: "I thought the purpose of this report was to look at ways that we could rein costs in. To say, 'Well, these are sex offenders, we just have to keep paying as much as we are,' is a ridiculous notion. You know, we're not children, we don't need to be protected from information about spending."
No other options?
Among the sections completely deleted from the report was a discussion of alternatives to long-term civil commitment and a discussion of help for juveniles who have committed acts of sexual abuse. One deleted passage read: "There may be a limited proportion of commitments in which placement in a highly secure setting like MSOP is not necessary, yet is the only option because no lesser restrictive option currently exists."
A passage arguing that the state Health Department could improve education for parents and troubled youth was deleted, Ludeman said, because he didn't think that was what legislators would be interested in reading.
The Department of Human Services, he said, "was setting itself up in the original report to be the expert in what it took in education and community support to prevent future sex offenders," he said. He said that, in his view, education and prevention are the responsibility of the "education system, parents and law enforcement."
"To say that we can get them the appropriate mental health treatment protocol is something that [Human Services] is not ready, certainly not able, to do, and I thought this report was being too positive," Ludeman said.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.