Having written about Glenn Gruenhagen's incendiary remarks about castrating sex offenders, made during the testimony of Dennis Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to the Minnesota House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, I thought I'd be much happier with today's column on the Star Tribune's op-ed by the paper's Commentary Editor, D.J. Tice.
Afterall, surely someone who noted The cruelest cut of all: Glenn Gruenhagen recommends barnyard remedy for sex offenders, as Bluestem did on February 8, would welcome the headline, Calm discussion needed about sex offenders and the opening line:
"This is a very difficult subject to have a rational conversation about."
Tice doesn't mention Gruenhagen's rants, which actually were part of the discussion in the committee that day, when he scolds politicians about the need for a calm, rational conversation.
Nope. In Tice's view, those who need to stay calm weren't in the room. Rather than addressing Gruenhagen's advocating of castration as something that "sure worked on the farm," Tice admonishes Linda Berglin and Mike Hatch to stay calm. Hatch especially is put in a difficult position, since the non-calm conversation took place on the campaign trail in 2006, not in the room where Benson was testifying.
Moreover, Tice rewrites a bit of history in order to blame the burgeoning population of civilly-committed sex offenders on Mike Hatch, rather than allowing any accountability to fall at Tim Pawlenty's feet.
In the Tice version:
A bigger step came that winter, following the rape-murder of college student Dru Sjodin by a sex offender who could have been committed to the sex offender program but was not deemed dangerous enough.
Hatch renewed his attacks, and the DFL Party launched a TV ad featuring a sinister closeup of Pawlenty's eyes and the charge: "These eyes just watched as administrative bungling and the wrong budget priorities let rapists and sexual predators back on our streets."
Sounds nice, but that's not what happened when Sjodin's future killer was released. David Hanners at the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that questions were raised by End of Confinement Review Committee about the Level 3 sex offender:
The decision not to refer Rodriguez to a county attorney had been made in 2001 by a psychologist at the Corrections Department's St. Paul headquarters. He wrote in a "Civil Commitment Referral Determination" that the inmate had aged, and "Statistically, we know that as offenders age, they tend to commit fewer crimes."
Panel weighs in
But nearly two years later - and three months before Rodriguez was to be released - a five-member panel known as the End of Confinement Review Committee reached a different conclusion. The team predicted the inmate would commit new and more violent crimes upon release.
In a "Risk Assessment Report" dated Jan. 23, 2003, the committee wrote:
"Offender is unlikely to have a stable, well-supervised living arrangement in a location which minimizes his access to potential victims (based on his pattern of offending); offender's history of social and/or familial relationships is unlikely to support an offense-free lifestyle or may encourage further criminal behavior."
The report said that Rodriguez had "numerous and unsuccessful sex offender treatment experiences" and that he had even committed a sexual assault while enrolled in a treatment program. That he refused sex offender treatment or a psychological evaluation is also noted throughout his prison file.
The committee said his past crimes included "severe" and "gratuitous" violence with "sadistic characteristics," and members believed that his "willingness to use force may be escalating in severity."
The committee included a prison supervisor, a caseworker, a psychologist with experience treating sex offenders, a law enforcement officer and a victim services representative.
The team determines which of three "risk levels" sex offenders should be assigned before they are released. A Level 1 offender has the least probability of committing new crimes, while a Level 3 offender is considered the most dangerous.
The committee unanimously named Rodriguez a Level 3. Statistically, Level 3 offenders commit new crimes at twice the rate of other sex offenders.
Because of that increased risk, state law mandates that the release of a Level 3 offender must be accompanied by extensive community notification. But committee members said that in Rodriguez's case, the notification laws wouldn't be enough to protect the public.
Because his crimes were spontaneous and he chose his victims at random, "The nature of the offender's victim pool suggests a need for broader notification of the public than that permitted," wrote Doug Appelgren, the committee's chairman and a corrections supervisor. (David Hanners, "Panel saw risk 'escalating' private review written 3 months before release of Sjodin Suspect," St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 14, 2004, Nexis All News, accessed 2/20/2011)
One commenter on Tice's column claims familiar knowledge of the panel's deliberations--echoing the the material from the Hannen article--and ties them to costs to the offender's home county:
My recollection of the Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. case differs slightly from D.J. Tice. A very close relative of mine was part of the panel that examined Alfonso and explained to me that they DID recommend that he be committed to long term civil treatment. However, the county that Alfonso came from felt that they could not afford to pay for their portion of the commitment costs and therefore did not pursue it. . . .
This sounds more like the legacy of cash-strapped counties. Pawlenty's legacy, not Hatch's.
Moreover, it wasn't just DFLers politicking on toughness for se offenders. The Minnesota House was controlled by Republicans when penalties and policy on sex offenders were tightened in 2005. The Star Tribune reported:
A year and a half after Dru Sjodin was abducted and killed, allegedly at the hands of a repeat rapist, the Legislature on Monday overwhelmingly approved a historic crackdown on sex offenders, including life in prison without parole for what one senator called "truly the worst of the worst of the worst."
"Minnesotans can sleep a lot safer now," said Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. "There won't be a wave of victims behind these sexual predators."
Final agreement on the increased penalties came after two full legislative sessions of haggling between the House and Senate over the long-term costs and effects of locking up hundreds, if not thousands, of sex offenders for good.
In the end, Senate negotiators significantly scaled back the House's lock-'em-up proposals, focusing life without parole narrowly on particularly heinous violent rapists. Many other sexual felons would face indeterminate sentences up to life in prison.
( Conrad deFiebre, "PUBLIC SAFETY; Worst sex offenders in line for life in prison and no parole," Star Tribune, May 25, 2005, Nexis All News, accessed 2/20/2011)
One could go on--look for coverage of the Sjodin murder and subsequent changes in law and policy if you have your own access to Nexos or to a library online--but even a quick review shows that Hatch, Berglin and the DFL weren't alone in "politicking" on this issue. How unfortunate that Tice could bring himself to mention any by name. The more conspiratorial among Bluestem's reader might fancy that Tice is hoping to soft pedal the Pawlenty record on sex offender policy in light of the former governor's presidential ambitions.
And then there's Glenn Gruenhagen. Comments about cutting sex offenders are not incendiary--or worth mentioning in a column about the need for calm discussion? Guess not.
God forbid that one might mention the irrationality that actually was voiced in the room on February 8, 2011. Tice might have to mention a Republican's frenzy, or accurately describe the past.
Photo: DJ Tice, neutering the discussion, one Republican at a time.