A ‘climate of despair’
MSOP opened its campus in Moose Lake in the mid-1990s as a high-security treatment program for sex offenders who were finishing up their prison sentence yet were still considered dangerous to the public. The concept was simple: Offenders were civilly committed to the program for treatment indefinitely, or until experts decided it was safe to release them.
Over the years, the number of commitments to MSOP steadily climbed, spiking dramatically after the 2003 rape and murder of North Dakota college student Dru Sjodin. She was abducted by a sex offender from Minnesota who had been released from prison but not committed to the program.
But even as more people were being sent to the program, no one ever got out. By 2011, hundreds of offenders had been committed to the program with zero successful releases. That year, attorney Dan Gustafson filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a group of offenders in the program, alleging MSOP had become a warehouse for sex offenders instead of a treatment program and violated the constitutional rights of those sent there. After years of legal wrangling and a six-week trial, Frank released his long-awaited decision in June of 2015: He ruled the program was violating the constitutional rights of offenders by creating an “emotional climate of despair among the facilities’ residents.”
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