Idea of indefinite lockup needs revision

by Keelia Moeller

In the past few weeks, several concerns regarding the constitutionality of a few specific laws and programs in Minnesota have come under scrutiny. 
For one, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank recently deemed Minnesota’s sex offender program to be unconstitutional. 
This ruling does not mean that all committed sex offenders will be immediately released — it instead means that Minnesota needs to begin revising its sex offender program in order to provide constitutional protection for the offenders.
It is vital to recognize why Minnesota’s program was seen as unconstitutional. The Constitution prohibits locking people up to keep them from committing future crimes, which is exactly what this program is doing. Following the completion of their prison sentences, offenders are kept in state facilities for indefinite periods of time, called “civil commitment.” 
It is this indefinite sentencing that was seen as unconstitutional because all people, no matter how disliked they are by society, are entitled to constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment.
More than 700 committed sex offenders have sued the state on the grounds that their indefinite sentences are unconstitutional and that they do not receive fair treatment at these facilities. 
Since the beginning of the program in the 1990s, only three offenders have been conditionally released with heavy supervision. One of them violated the conditions of release and had to return. 
The offenders in the civil commitment stage have already completed their prison sentences — the sole purpose for them now should be to correct their behavior and rehabilitate their mindset. 
Unfortunately, this is not the only unconstitutional issue that has come into question in Minnesota. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole sentences for juveniles constituted cruel and unusual punishment. 
There is still debate about whether this decision should be applied retroactively. 
In 2006, LaMonte Martin, a gang leader, was a few months from legal adulthood when he was sentenced to life without parole for killing an innocent bystander in a war between two gangs.
In 2013, Martin asserted that his sentence was unconstitutional, but the Minnesota Supreme Court this month decided that all sentences of life without parole for juveniles given prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling are valid. 
Gov. Mark Dayton believes that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is constitutional and likely hopes to reverse the decision — as does the state. 
To me, it seems that indefinite lockup comes dangerously close to cruel and unusual punishment, which is something the constitution protects everyone from. The civil commitment part of the sex offender program is also an extension of imprisonment, rather than rehabilitation. 
We need to develop a program with a tangible beginning, middle and end. Based on its seemingly nonexistent results, the program we currently have does not work.