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DFLers call for hearings into Pawlenty plan for sexual predators
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Rep. Deb Hilstrom, Rep. Ron Latz, and Rep. Joe Atkins called for legislative hearings following a newspaper article that contends the state will release sexual predators because of budget woes. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Gov. Pawlenty says Democrats are making reckless allegations that budget considerations have prompted his administration to consider releasing sexual predators. Pawlenty says the allegations are untrue, and he won't allow early release of sexual psychopaths being held for treatment after their prison terms end. Several House DFLers are calling for legislative hearings into the matter.

St. Paul, Minn. — The Star Tribune reported over the weekend that the Pawlenty administration is looking for ways to release into the community some of the 190 sexual psychopaths in state treatment centers.

Attorney General Mike Hatch says he objects to releasing offenders to halfway houses, and says budget considerations shouldn't dictate how they receive treatment.

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Image Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Pawlenty says both the Star Tribune headline and Hatch's comments are inaccurate.

"Under my watch, we will not support or allow early release of sexual predators. Period. Paragraph. Not today, not tomorrow, not six months from now, not four years from now, and so people should take confident in that position and that reassurance. These allegations are either political or they are sloppy; in either case, it doesn't speak very well for the individuals who are making them," Pawlenty said.

Republican Pawlenty says DFLer Hatch is his likely political opponent if he runs for re-election in 2006, and he suggested that Hatch's political ambitions are driving the issue. Hatch says he hasn't made any decisions about running for governor in 2006. He says the issue is whether sexual predators should be released into the community.

"We have to defend these cases, we have to put these people in with civil commitments, we have to defend these cases when they hire attorneys, we know that they will be using the statements that were in the newspaper from this administration to be filing more petitions claiming release, saying that somehow they're not being held appropriately," he said.

Hatch says sexual predators shouldn't be put in halfway houses. State Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno says there are no current plans to do so. Goodno says state officials are simply discussing treatment options, if the court orders them to release a sex offender.

Under a 1994 law, judges can declare offenders dangerous to society, and civilly commit them to secure psychiatric hospitals once they've served their prison time. Once they've completed a four-tier program, Goodno says a court could order their release, or a judicial review board could recommend their release to him. He says state officials need to plan for their treatment if they are released.

"These are just things that we're looking at, and options we're discussing, it's nothing that has been set in stone or that we've decided on, but basically it's intense supervision, so it could be in a halfway house or in monitoring, but it would also include very intensive personal supervision, oversight, by a specially trained parole officer who makes regular visits and many unannounced visits," according to Goodno.

Goodno says eight sexual predators are one step away from potential release. No one has ever been released from the state's treatment program.

Goodno says the treatment budget was not affected by recent cuts to health and human services programs, but some House DFLers dispute that. Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, says the Star Tribune quoted the former clinical director of the treatment program, who said she resigned because she thought state officials were more concerned about the budget than good treatment.

"It's the people within the system themselves that are saying the budget is driving the potential release of sexual predators. We've got the governor's office denying that. We've got other folks including families, victims, the attorney general himself, saying that is, in fact, what may occur. We're simply asking for hearings to get to the bottom of it," Atkins said.

DFLers say if House Republican leaders won't hold legislative hearings on the matter, they'll hold their own hearings.

Gov. Pawlenty says he'd probably support hearings to clear up the issue, but says he shouldn't have to spend time defending against allegations that he says are unresearched and inflammatory.

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