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Sex offenders cost $34 per taxpayer

Legislators will consider satellite tracking devices

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- The state's tab for taking a hard line on sex offenders now adds up to $34 a year per taxpayer to house, treat and keep track of them. And that price tag is on the way up.

In recent years, lawmakers from both parties have agreed to extend prison sentences for sex offenders, keep closer watch on those not behind bars and order treatment for others.

This year, legislators will consider whether to require satellite tracking devices for some offenders, to expand existing state facilities and to more aggressively go after people possessing child pornography.

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Sex offender programs now cost Minnesota $117 million a year. The St. Paul Pioneer Press, analyzing data from the programs, estimated that the cost will rise by $50 million by 2010.

The newspaper's analysis doesn't include the money cities, counties, courts and others spend to catch, try and track sex offenders.

"This is not a 'How much public safety we can afford?' type of question," said Eric Lipman, Minnesota sex-offender-policy coordinator.

Roughly 300 offenders deemed sexually dangerous or as psychopathic personalities are committed to secure state hospitals at a $281-per-day per patient cost. That population might reach 800 by the end of the decade.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is asking the Legislature to approve $50 million in borrowing to build an additional hospital for those sex offenders and to design a second new facility.

As of last summer, another 2,436 sex offenders were serving time in state prisons. They account for about 28 percent of the entire prison population, and they each cost the state $79 a day.

A new sentencing law passed last year could put an additional 240 prisoners behind bars within 20 years.

Most sex offenders -- about 5,000 -- are currently on supervised release or probation, which costs anywhere from $4 to $21 a day.

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Steve Sawyer, the executive director of a nonprofit organization that offers sex-offender treatment, questions whether state money is spent as wisely as it could be.

"What are we doing in prevention and how much are we investing in primary prevention?" asked Sawyer, of Project Pathfinder. "The challenge is we still need research about what's the pathway from childhood to adolescence to adult sexual offense."

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