Linswritings

Sex offender may be released from jail in Minnesota

Posted on: March 4, 2011

John Rydberg was the worst sex offender who walked the streets in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1975 he broke into a rural Wisconsin home and raped a young couple as their son slept upstairs. Four years later he raped a Minnesota woman at knifepoint in front of her children. In addition, he admitted to counselors that he committed more than 90 sex offenses, mostly involving voyeurism or exposing himself. About 15 involved actual physical contact with his victims.

Because Minnesota is looking at cutting its budget, just like other states, Rydberg may become the first person permanently freed from the state’s civil commitment program for sex offenders. This program started in 1994 has not seen a sex offender permanently freed from the program.

Rydberg, age 68, will try to convince a judicial panel that he is a changed man who deserves release from Minnesota’s sex offender treatment program after nearly two decades. If he gets the provisional discharge he’s seeking, he would be released to a Twin Cities halfway house with a GPS ankle bracelet and a long list of conditions to follow.

The problem many states are facing is the cost of treating growing populations of sex offenders. An Associated Press analysis last year found that the 20 states with civil commitment programs planned to spend nearly $500 million in 2010 to confine and treat 5,200 sex offenders considered too dangerous to release. The annual costs per offender averaged $96,000 a year. As of January 1, the program had 605 inmates. It adds about 50 prisoners a year and the cost is about $67 million to run this year. However, many legislators have said they’re fine with keeping sex offenders locked up, regardless of cost.

Rydberg’s case has advanced the farthest out of the seven men in Minnesota who have reached the final stage of treatment before they can seek provisional discharge. He lives in a house on the grounds of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter — outside the secure perimeter and not locked up. At least one other man’s case could come up later this year.

State and federal courts have ruled that indefinite civil commitments of sex offenders are constitutional if the confinement is meant to provide treatment. But some experts question Minnesota’s sincerity in that goal. Neighboring Wisconsin’s sex-offender treatment program has discharged more than 60 sex offenders since 1995. California has put nearly 200 offenders back into the community. New Jersey has freed more than 120.

However, the lawyer representing the Department of Human Services will aggressively oppose Rydberg’s petition for release because they still feel that he is dangerous and that public safety would be undermined.

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