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Sex Offender Task Force Recommends More Alternatives to Confinement

The task force says Minnesota needs something between confinement and outright release. Golden Valley's only level III sex offender, Clarence Opheim, recently left the community to live in Minneapolis.

A Sex Offender Civil Commitment Advisory Task Force is recommending a greater variety of housing options for sex offenders, like Clarence Opheim who garnered so much attention in Golden Valley last winter and this month, according to a report the Minnesota Department of Human Services published Monday.

Click on the PDF to the right to read the full report.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson appointed 15 task force members to examine the state’s civil commitment process—a system in which sex offenders are held in secure treatment facilities after they’ve completed their system.

The system has drawn criticism because very few offenders have been released, culminating in a federal judge’s order in August for Jesson to convene a task force that could recommend other options.

Specifically, the task force was charged with examining:

  • “The civil commitment and referral process for sex offenders;
  • “Civil commitment options that are less restrictive than placement in a secure treatment facility; and
  • “The standards and processes for the reduction in custody for civilly committed sex offenders.”

The report noted that issue present complex constitutional and legal questions but focused much of the attention on the limited number of so-called “less-restrictive alternatives” that are middle ground on the spectrum of confinement.

“Perhaps the most significant impediment to effective Less Restrictive Alternatives is the absence of facilities and funding for programs to which offenders can be committed short of a secure facility or outright release,” the report stated.

Opheim was Golden Valley's only level III sex offender, the highest risk level. When the 64-year-old first moved to Golden Valley last March, he was confined to a halfway house.

At the time, Opheim was one of the first sex offenders to be released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in more than a decade and was under strict supervision.

Opheim was only allowed to leave the halfway house with an escort. He was not allowed a cell phone, or access to a computer. He had to submit to random drug testing, take polygraph tests and wear a GPS tracker at all times. 

Opheim moved out of the community at the end of November.

The report calls on the Legislature to provide adequate funding for “less-secure residential facilities, group homes, outpatient facilities, and treatment programs”—as well as resources for public education and public safety provisions. Any proposals should describe the different types of services that will be required, technology like GPS tracking that will be used and transitional services like employment counseling, it stated.

And if private companies and nonprofits can’t provide sufficient programs and facilities, the human services commissioner should be able to create state-operated facilities and programs, the task force argued.

The task force plans to review the entire civil commitment process in greater depth over the next year and present a final report before Dec. 1, 2013.

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