Methods and practices used to indefinitely lock up certain sex offenders

Case moves forward: Positive decision from MN district court

In a decision issued in February 2014, the Minnesota District Court issued a positive decision allowing the bulk of the case to move forward.

Case Background

The ACLU-MN filed a brief in this case that challenges the detention of individuals housed in the Minnesota Sex Offender treatment program. In Minnesota, there are nearly 700 people imprisoned under the Minnesota Sexual Offenders program, at a prison-like treatment facility because they have been deemed "sexual psychopathic" or "sexually dangerous". Individuals are sent to the MSOP program because after a sex offender completes his or her prison sentence, the state can ask for a hearing to decide whether this "civil commitment" is necessary because the offender is still dangerous.

The ACLU-MN believes that implementation of the MSOP violates the Constitution. The power of the government to deprive a person of liberty in order to punish that person for committing a crime is strictly controlled by the Constitution.

The ACLU does not believe that all the individuals who are imprisoned through this program should be immediately released. Instead, reforms should be made to the program that will protect their constitutional rights while at the same time reducing costs to the state and keeping everyone safe. This would ensure the program is actually a civil commitment program, not a criminal punishment. There are at least three ways this can be done:

  1. The Government must offer an intermediate option. As it stands, the only two choices are to lock up an offender in a prison-like facility or let them completely free. Minnesota needs intermediate facilities such as halfway houses. States such as Texas use these facilities to implement a more efficient and much cheaper program.
  2. The Government must take real steps to improve treatment at MSOP. Minnesota has not completely treated a single individual. Other states have civil commitment schemes that result in real treatment, including safely releasing civilly committed individuals back into the community.
  3. These determinations should, as the Office of the Legislative Auditor suggested in its report, be made by an independent panel of retired judges. These judges are not sitting for re-election and are more likely to take an honest and accurate approach to an unpopular cause such as the constitutional rights of sex offenders.


June 17, 2015 -- The United States District Court for the State of Minnesota found Minnesota's sex offenders treatment program unconstitutional. In the ruling, Judge Frank declared the program unconstitutional and ordered that Minnesota must take steps to remedy the problems with the program. 


Eric Janus, and Teresa Nelson of the ACLU-MN

Date filed

December 27, 2013


US District Court