Moose Lake hunger strike spurs new discussion about Minnesota Sex Offender Program
The report to state lawmakers comes weeks after detainees in Moose Lake went on a two-week hunger strike to protest the absence of a clear pathway to graduation from the program.
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Human Services heads agreed to expand restorative justice opportunities and incorporate more advocate perspectives at a Moose Lake Sex Offender Program facility as part of a deal to end a two-week hunger strike among detainees.
Nancy Johnston, executive director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, on Monday, Aug. 2, told a joint legislative panel that Department of Human Services leaders had accepted five of 17 requests from the hunger strikers, family members and others aiming to end the state's sex offender program.
Detainees at the facility engaged in a hunger strike for two weeks last month in an effort to highlight low release rates at the Moose Lake detention center. It was the second time this year that a group went without nourishment to gain attention for their cause. In July, two of those engaged in the strike experienced seizures and four people were hospitalized.
Roughly 740 people are detained in facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter as part of the Sex Offender Program. And those who've completed their prison sentences can move into the program for an unspecified period of time.
The unclear timeframe spurred calls from detainees to the department urging a clearer and quicker path to graduation from the program as well as the closure of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. House committees on Monday didn't raise questions about the program or pose possible changes but they said additional discussions about the program could come later.
Advocates and detainees also called for the renaming of the sex offender program, quicker review board hearings and increased attendance by program administrators at Resident Advisory Family Council meetings. Johnston said the terms had been implemented or were being worked on.
"We'll always to continue to examine ways to support our clients," she said. "DHS is committed to and respectfully listened to the group of hunger strikers and the coalition partners and are committed to developing about one-third of the ideas that they put forward."
A dozen of the group's other demands were not met during the meetings. And in written testimony submitted to the legislative committees, advocacy groups End MSOP and OCEAN, pressed for a clearer pathway to discharge for those detained in the program and recommended a different system for reducing sexual violence in Minnesota.
"The harm to the residents and their families has been great," members of OCEAN wrote. "Residents are not allowed to attend funerals of loved ones. They are not allowed to pursue secondary education. They are not learning how to live in society."