Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Sex offender describes years seeking way out of program

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota sex offender testified Tuesday about his frustrations over the difficulty of ever getting out of the state's civil commitment program, where he has spent more than 23 years with no end date in sight.

Dennis Richard Steiner, 65, was the first patient to take the stand in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of more than 700 offenders who have been committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program indefinitely after finishing their prison terms. They say it's unconstitutional because hardly anyone ever gets out, that the treatment is too often inadequate because of staff shortages and turnover and there's no certain path to discharge.

The state argues the program is constitutional and the number of residents who qualify for release is small simply because so many of them are too dangerous.

Steiner, who lives at the program's Moose Lake facility, admits to molesting 31 boys ages 8-16. He said he agreed in 1992 after his last conviction to enter a precursor to today's program because he was led to believe he would spend only three or four years in it instead of serving a 12-year prison sentence. But he said the program kept changing, and he kept getting sent back to the beginning.

A special judicial panel last month cleared Steiner to transfer into a different program that's outside the razor wire at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. The Community Preparation Services program is meant to ready offenders who have made good progress for release into less-restrictive settings, but he's still waiting for the formal order.


"Do you think you're ever going to get out?" attorney Dan Gustafson asked him.

"Not at its current rate. ... Nobody has," Steiner replied.

In the MSOP's 21-year history, nobody has been fully released, though two men are on provisional discharges under intense supervision. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said in pretrial rulings that the program is "clearly broken." If he agrees it is unconstitutional, he's likely to order a major overhaul. No matter what he decides on the constitutional issues, he wrote earlier this month, "the interests of justice require substantial changes."

Steiner said he's participated in treatment for nearly his entire time in the program — which has included 24 changes in primary therapists — because he thinks it's his only chance.

"If I drop out, I'm not going to get out. So I've stayed with the program," he said.

Asked why program officials recently changed their minds and now support his transfer to the CPS program at St. Peter, he replied, "My opinion is the lawsuit."

Steiner said he's confident he won't molest any other children if he gets out but acknowledged that he still feels attracted to boys. He said the attraction is not sexual but was at a loss to explain it.

The judge rejected a motion from Deputy Attorney General Nathan Brennaman to strike portions of testimony from four court-appointed experts who have told the court in a written report and in testimony since last week that they believe some residents should be released into less-restrictive settings.


Residents in the program, who are officially considered patients and not prisoners, are being allowed to watch the proceedings via a video link. Gustafson said he plans to call three more to testify Thursday.

What To Read Next
Get Local