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Sex offender treatment costs

Published (1/21/2011)
By Patty Ostberg
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Jannine Hébert, executive clinical director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, from left, Executive Director Dennis Benson and Deputy Director Dan Storkamp present an overview to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Jan. 18. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)More than 650 individuals are civilly committed in the state’s sex offender program at a cost of $67.4 million in fiscal year 2011.

Although projections show a 50-person increase in each of the next five years, members of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee asked program officials for cost-saving ideas Jan. 18.

Executive Director Dennis Benson said previous saving measures have included changing sentencing policies to keep offenders in prison longer where the costs are cheaper versus moving them to the more expensive sex offender program.

Another option includes creating consistent criteria among district courts for those who can qualify for the program, said Benson. Currently, each court has a “different spin” on who meets the criteria, he said.

Committee Chairman Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) said the sex offender program is always a “touchy hearing,” but the goal of individuals in the program is working towards rehabilitation.

Benson said therapy is offered to all of those committed but participation can be refused. Currently, about 80 to 85 percent of those committed accept treatment.

Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth) asked how many offenders are developmentally disabled and if there was a less costly way to treat that specific group.

Benson said about 20 to 25 percent of patients are lower functioning with an IQ of 70 or less. “Under good supervision they may be managed successfully in a community,” he said, adding further study is needed.

Although no participants have ever been released from the program, Benson predicts a first will happen in the next 12 months. Those results are not unusual with less than 10 percent released nationally, he said. Wisconsin has one the most successful programs, releasing 8-10 individuals per year, he added.

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