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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Court appointed experts say they were shocked to find people without any adult criminal history committed indefinitely to Minnesota's sex offender program. The testimony came Monday during a fact finding hearing in federal court in Saint Paul, as part of a class action lawsuit filed by clients of the MSOP.

The experts were appointed in January by US District Court Judge Donovan Frank, to evaluate the program, which is already under scrutiny because only one person has ever been released in the 19-year history of the program.

The MSOP is run by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, or DHS, and is designed to treat those offenders who've finished their prison and probation but are still considered to have a high risk of reoffending and haven't responded to treatment during incarceration.

The four experts -- from Florida, New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota -- expect to deliver a full report on the program by the end of August. But, in the meantime, they've alerted Judge Frank and Magistrate Jeffrey Keyes about two examples of persons who don't belong in an intensive sex offender treatment program under lock and key.

One of them is a 24-year-old man identified as E.T., who agreed to be committed to the program in 2008. He has no adult crimes on his record, and was placed in the program based on his actions between ages 10 and 14.

"I believe he should be released into a placement that would provide him with the services that he needs, to learn the simple little things that we all learn at a young age, that he hasn't had the opportunities to learn," his father, Ronald Terhaar of Long Prairie, told KARE.

"The basic skills such as how to appropriately socialize, communicate with people. He's been in such a restrictive environment that it's 'Yes sir, No sir' all the time. And he's told when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat."

Terhaar said his son is "not without issues" but should be able to receive treatment in a community based setting. He said E.T. agreed to go into the sex offender program because the he became frustrated with the hearing process that "forced him to re-live his entire past."

Release recommended

The panel of experts recommended that E.T. be released as soon as possible, and without any conditions imposed by DHS.

"He demonstrates an ability to control his sexual behavior, and curb his anger," Dr. Naomi Freeman, who works for the New York Department of Mental Health, testified.

She said that E.T.'s case record includes a number of stops at juvenile treatment facilities, including one that reported in 2006 that E.T. was "being warehoused."

The agency, on the other hand, would prefer to transition E.T. from the Moose Lake facility to a secure, but less-restrictive setting outside the main razor wire at the DHS facility in St. Peter. The DHS would prefer to see E.T. transfer to a phase known as Community Preparation Services and use the existing transition system which features a Special Review Board and a Supreme Court Appeals Panel.

Dr. Michael Miner of the University of Minnesota said that children who sexually act out at such a young age are unlikely to commit adult crimes, and need treatment that addresses a "constellation of factors" as opposed to undergoing intense treatment designed for adult sex offenders.

Deputy Attorney General Nate Brenneman, representing the DHS in court, suggested that the panel of experts had highlighted very unique cases rather than focusing on residents that are more representative of the broader population at Moose Lake and Saint Peter.

He asked Judge Frank and Magistrate Keyes to order the experts to concentrate instead on clients that are receiving treatment appropriate. One of Brenneman's objections challenged the admissibility of the experts' findings because they weren't delivered simultaneously to all parties involved.

Frank and Keyes took that objection under advisement, but allowed the testimony to proceed.

Dr. Robin Wilson, who directs a similar sex offender program in Florida testifies that E.T. is representative of a subcategory, of dozens of MSOP clients who never committed crimes as an adult. And in Wilson's opinion, E.T. should never have been committed to indefinite treatment in the first place.

"If there was someone in my program that didn't belong there, I would try to change that," Wilson said.

The Sole Female

Another case the Wilson and his cohorts highlighted was a woman in her 40's known as R.B., who is the only female out of 600-plus former sex offenders in the program. He said they were surprised to find her in the same unit with men, even though she is supervised at all times except when she's inside her room with the door locked.

They said R.B. is one of scores of MSOP clients who are vulnerable adults for one reason or another. According the the panel, R.B.is "sexually reactive" which causes her to have trouble with boundaries and be preoccupied with sex. She also has has cognitive issues and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from a childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse.

Deborah Jean McCulloch, a clinical masters level social worker who specializes in forensic mental health evaluations, said the panel believed R.B. needs to be in a setting where she can receive treatment for the trauma she has received.

McCulloch, who has worked in the Wisconsin Sexually Violent Persons program since 1999, said Minnesota should create less restrictive settings and treatment programs tailored to people such as R.B. rather than place her in a program designed for repetitive male sex offenders.

She noted that R.B. has not been convicted of a crime for decades. R.B. did return to prison in 1997 on a probation violation for sexually abusing a fellow patient, a vulnerable female, at the St. Peter Security Hospital.

Dr. Freeman said female sex offenders have a high rate of childhood abuse in their backgrounds, and have a lower likelihood to become repeat offenders compared to men with a record of sex offenses as adults.

Brenneman asked all the experts if they know of programs that would deliver the types of treatment that R.B. needs. They couldn't cite any, but explained that finding alternatives was beyond the scope of the mission given to them by the judges.

The experts asserted that Minnesota has the resources to create programs or treatment settings that match the needs of people in R.B.'s situation.

Three prongs

Dr. Wilson said placement evaluations, at the very least, need to cover three basic principles; risk, need and responsivity.

He said the level of treatment should match the risk, or the patient's risk of reoffending. The treatment program should be something the patient actually needs or can benefit from on the road to recovery. Responsivity deals with the issue of whether the patient is responding to the treatment.

Wilson said some of the programming at MSOP is helpful to E.T., but most of it is geared to patients with other types of programs. He could receive the same treatment more efficiently in a different setting.

And, the expert asserted, E.T. has been inhibited from maturing and developing skills that will help him mature because of the institutional nature of the Moose Lake facility.

Both E.T. and R.B. listed to parts of the court proceedings Monday, and may testify on Tuesday when the fact-finding hearing continues.

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