State looks to move sex offender program clients to Cambridge

A plan to move six low-functioning and medically needy clients of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to a Cambridge facility in early spring or fall of 2014 is underway by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The department’s commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, explained in a letter last week that she believes the Cambridge site of the Minnesota Speciality Health System can be repurposed to serve a group of clients of the Sex Offender Program.

Jesson said this is part of a larger effort to develop alternative placements for clients who can be served safely in settings that are secure and supervised, but less restrictive, than the facilities at Moose Lake and St. Peter.

The Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program will host community meetings Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Armed Forces Reserve and Community Center in Cambridge, 505 Spirit River Drive. There will be golf carts available for senior citizens to bring them from the parking lot to the front door of the building.

Officials with the Sex Offender Program met with local government officials during an initial meeting Sept. 19 at the Cambridge facility.

Nancy Johnston, executive director of the Sex Offender Program, explained the Program provides comprehensive services to individuals who have been court-ordered to receive sex offender treatment. Most clients have completed prison sentences. Clients are civilly committed by the courts and placed in treatment for an indeterminate period of time. A court may commit a person to the Program to ensure public safety if a judge determines that the individual is a “sexual psychopathic personality” or a “sexually dangerous person” or both.

Johnston explained most clients begin treatment at the Moose Lake facility, and after successfully progressing through treatment, they transfer to the St. Peter facility to complete treatment and begin working toward provisional discharge and reintegration.

Just as clients are placed in sex offender facilities by the courts, courts also decide when clients are ready to return to the community. Johnston said, to date, only one Sex Offender Program client has been fully discharged from civil commitment. She said that person is living in Minneapolis and is doing well.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our clients, our staff and the communities,” Johnston said.

Elizabeth Barbo, reintegration director with the Sex Offender Program, explained moving clients to the Cambridge facility will be a gradual process.

She explained the Sex Offender Program team is currently supporting petitions of six intellectually disabled clients to transfer to the Cambridge site. She explained the clients range in age from their 40s to 80s, and will benefit from the less restrictive setting that exists at the Cambridge facility.

Barbo explained the earliest clients would move to Cambridge would be early spring or fall of 2014, and the legal review process for sex offender clients can take at least six months.

Barbo explained this transition is still a work in progress and several “work groups” are being formed among the Sex Offender Program to work out the details for the transition to the Cambridge facility.

Johnston explained one group of town homes at the Cambridge facility will be converted into a six-bed facility that will have doors outfitted with card readers, cameras and secure equipment.

Barbo explained the Office of Special Investigation can monitor all phone calls made by clients, as well as the GPS tracking bracelets worn by clients.

“We are experts in the field of camera equipment and taping,” Johnston said. “We will have someone monitoring these clients at all times, and they will all be wearing GPS monitoring equipment.”

Johnston said the Cambridge facility will more than likely be the final home for the six men petitioning to live there.

“We do know the six men petitioning the court to live in Cambridge are lower-functioning men,” Johnston said. “These men aren’t going to get any better, and this is where they are maxing out. We feel these men can safely be treated inside one of these town homes.”

Barbo added the six clients have not caused any problems while in treatment.

“These six men have all followed the rules of the program, are cooperative, respect staff and work well with each other,” Barbo said. “We feel this group of six will be a good first group to move to Cambridge.”

Johnston mentioned the Cambridge facility has between 45-48 beds.

“Some men who transfer to Cambridge will continue their sex offender treatment here,” Johnston said. “The other group of men who may come here are part of those who have been provisionally discharged; meaning their treatment has finished, but it would be most appropriate for them to remain in the program instead of going out into the community. We are excited about having this ‘in the middle’ option. Some clients may be transferred here, others may be provisionally discharged here.”

Barbo said she doesn’t anticipate any problems with the clients coming to Cambridge.

“The clients who come to Cambridge are highly unlikely to be criminally involved,” Barbo said.

Johnston said the clients will be supervised at all times.

“The plan isn’t for any of these men to go into the community, and we don’t anticipate any of these men being fully discharged. The clients will be supervised at all times. These clients will never be alone in the community,” Johnston said.

Johnston said officials with the Sex Offender Program want to have a good relationship with local government officials.

“We are developing policies to guide us along in this process,” Johnston said. “We are very involved in community groups in both St. Peter and Moose Lake. We can meet with you as often as you would like, as we are still in the beginning stages of this.”

Cambridge Police Chief Tim Dwyer, as well as Isanti County Sheriff Bill Guenther, informed the Sex Offender Program officials that they want to be kept informed as much as possible.

Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer said she appreciates the willingness by the Sex Offender Program officials to hold community meetings.

“I think the community meetings will be an excellent place to start, and I feel comfortable that we have our sheriff and other local law enforcement at today’s meeting,” Palmer said. “The community, and the entire county, has had a relationship with this facility in the city of Cambridge for more than 100 years. I’m happy we will have a continued relationship with our community liaison group.”