MSOP Moose Lake: Behind Barbed Wire Pt. 2
MOOSE LAKE, MN. (Northern News Now) - Recent violent assaults on staff inside the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake in the past year is sparking another look into the controversial treatment program.
Northern News Now Anchor Laura Lee investigates the claims made by some clients inside MSOP who say they are being given life sentences for crimes they have already served. In a 3-part series, Lee goes inside the high-security facility and talks to clients who say they are losing hope. She also travels to the state capitol to question the Department of Human Services in charge of the program and review the statutes of the current law. Lee also sits down with legal experts who argue that the $112 million used to fund the program can better serve the community in other ways to prevent sexual violence and she challenges why Minnesota is an outlier when it comes to civil commitment in the country.
The high-security facility that houses the state’s most dangerous sex offenders sits in a small town of less than three thousand people. The Minnesota Sex Offender Program is located off of Highway 73 in Moose Lake.
It opened in 1995 and one of the first clients, as they are called, was Daniel Larsen, who is now 62 years old.
“Spring of ‘95 we moved to this building,” said Larsen.
“Did you think you were going to be with this program for this long?” asked Lee of Larsen.
“No,” he said. Daniel Larsen was 16 years old when he was civilly committed into the state sex offender program. According to court documents, in 1976, Larson was accused of raping a 10-year-old girl. He was never convicted of the crime.
The incident was reported after he witnessed the murder of his mother and another woman inside a Minneapolis apartment in 1971. After months of going in and out of Minnesota’s Security Hospital in St. Peter, the courts determined he was mentally ill and ordered his civil commitment.
“I had some problems as a kid and after the loss of my mother and I never got any help from professionals to deal with it as a child,” said Larsen.
He and several other clients inside the treatment program agreed to sit down with us and share their stories.
Dan Larsen and Dan Wilson are a couple of the men who have petitioned the courts for their release. They claim they are being held not for crimes they have done, but for crimes they “might” do.
“Anyone that likes to claim that Minnesota doesn’t have the death penalty, I’d argue with them all day,” said Dan Wilson.
“Is there a flaw to the foundation of the program that these are offenders that are civilly committing based on what they might do, not what they have done,” asked Lee of Nancy Johnston.
“Even though he hasn’t committed a new crime, but the crimes he did commit and the behaviors he has demonstrated is of great concern,” said Johnston, who is the executive director of the program.
“A lot of people don’t even know that civil commitment exists, I think most people think that anybody who has committed a sex crime is in the Department of Corrections or in jail and the reality is there are people and thousands of people who have committed sexual crime and are registered sex offenders who live in our communities and in their own homes,” said Johnston.
She says of the roughly 1,200 sex offenders released from prisons every year in Minnesota, about 20 of those are civilly committed. Johnston argues the treatment program is state of the art and the only way out from the program is through a panel of judges.
“Our vision is to end sexual violence in Minnesota,” said Johnston. “I’ve been here 20 years, I’m committed to the program.”
The Department of Human Services, which operates the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, says clients participate in a three-phase treatment program.
According to DHS 440 clients are in the Moose Lake facility, 177 are in the St. Peter secured facility, and 130 are in community preparation services in St. Peter.
Dozens of clients are not participating in treatment at all, including Russell Hatton, who was civilly committed in 2007. After 16 years, he says he is still in phase one of the program.
“It goes back to hopelessness,” said Hatton, “I’ve been here 16 years, I have seen guys do the work and it has gotten them nowhere.”
“They have no intention of letting them go home,” said Ruby Brewer.
Brewer is a Behavorial Therapist. She was hired to work for MSOP in 2016. She was a primary therapist for some of the clients inside the program. The former therapist says it didn’t take long for her to notice something wasn’t right.
“When I was working there, I had two different supervisors that would force me to lower scores on quarterly and annual treatment reports because if the scores were too high then it looked like the clients were doing well and they would need to progress and they did not want them to progress,” said Brewer.
She says when she started to question the program and press her supervisors, she claims DHS launched an investigation. The state agency confirms with us Brewer was reprimanded for “insubordination.”
“They wanted me out because I wasn’t following what they wanted me to follow,” said Brewer.
In a statement to Northern News Now, Nancy Johnston said, “any claim that MSOP supervisors would direct therapists to lower assessment scores so that clients could not progress through treatment is false. Such professionally unethical behavior would not be – and is not – tolerated at MSOP.”
Brewer resigned after three years in 2019.
“Why do you take it upon yourself to do this even though it comes with risks?” asked Lee of Brewer.
“I know how wrong it is,” she said.
“There are individuals that are in wheelchairs, on oxygen, they can barely walk and stand and somehow MSOP convinces people these are the worse of the worse,” said Brewer.
Of the 747 clients inside MSOP, 117 are senior citizens. The oldest client is 89 years old. Committed as a juvenile, Larsen has lived the majority of his life behind the walls of this facility.
“You’re crying now why?” asked Lee.
“I miss my mom,” said Larsen.
“Do you think you are going to leave here? asked Lee.
“I think, unless I get a miracle, which I doubt, from our governor or politicians, I’m going to die here.”
“What do you say to the victims’ families that hear you say this though?” asked Lee of Larsen. “You’ve taken something from their family.”
“I’d say I’m sorry for your loss,” said Larsen. “That shouldn’t happen to anybody and that goes for any crime, not just sex offense.”
In 2011, Larsen petitioned for his release and a panel denied his request. Larsen is not alone in feeling that hopelessness.
Wilson and Hatton also believe they will live out the remainder of their lives inside MSOP.
“We’re sorry for the people that we’ve harmed, not just the victims, but the larger society,” said Hatton. “We need the opportunity to reintegrate back into society.”
“It’s just not realistic for me to believe that I will get out any other way except a body bag,” said Wilson.
We did some checking. Since the program started in the 90′s, DHS says 94 people have died while in the program. That’s compared to the 21 people who have fully completed treatment.
Since these interviews, we have heard from several other former staff members, who want to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by MSOP, who echo the same concerns as Brewer about mistreatment of some clients.
In the part final part of our 3-part series, to understand the complex program, it’s important to understand how these clients get in and the current statutes regarding MSOP. To house these men, it cost the state $175,000 a year per client.
Tune in Wednesday night at 10 on Northern News Now as we take a look at where your tax dollars are going, and hear from experts about how those dollars may be better suited in other ways to prevent sexual violence.
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