Monday, February 11, 2013

Dark Times Ahead for Sexual Offenders in Minnesota: The POR-CPS Pipeline

Sexual abuse is an issue that stirs strong emotions in most people. Although the nature and degree of harm suffered by victims remain points of contention, it is clear that many victims experience strongly detrimental effects. The focus in our field has been subtly changing over the past several years from risk management to prevention, which is a good thing. Concurrently, policymakers have continued to enact legislation intended to assuage the public's fear and fury over sexual abuse; however, a good many of those laws or policies are poorly grounded in research, if they consider the research at all. Worse still, some of these measures have the capacity to make matters worse.

A case in point...

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, life will be a lot more difficult for more than 25,000 sexual offenders.* A small change in MN statutes went into effect in 2012, with broad-reaching consequences. Even after guys successfully complete treatment, conditions of probation, and a minimum ten years of SO registration, they will now be subject to ongoing child protection investigations, potentially for life.

The changes in state laws now flags everyone who is currently on the MN Predatory Offender Registry (POR), and every offender who has EVER been on the POR, as fitting the new definition of threatened sexual abuse of a child. With a few new sentences, the legislature has created sweeping new mandates for reporting to county child protective services (CPS) any current or former predatory offender living in a household with children or having any unsupervised contact with children.

The POR-CPS pipeline was perhaps intended to target anyone who has sexually abused and is living in a household with kids. But it goes far beyond that. The definition of
predatory offenses in Minnesota includes many crimes other than criminal sexual conduct. But the assumption underlying these new statutes is that all predatory offenders are perpetually at risk for sexually abusing children, and they should not be unsupervised around kids. As the laws are currently written, the POR-CPS pipeline never ends – even after POR expires. By status, sex offenders are now subject to CPS review for life.

I became aware last fall that something had changed after receiving requests from CPS workers for documentation that former juvenile clients had completed sex offender treatment- in some cases 10 or 20 years ago. Reviewing new statutes, consulting with colleagues, and talking with specialists at MN DHS, the impetus for these new CPS inquiries emerged.

It appears the legislative changes began with state efforts to comply with
CAPTA, federal legislation that provides state grants for child protection. The new legislation had little discussion among legislators or participation by stakeholders. It appears legislators and policy makers did not consider the ramifications of implementing this careless piece of legislation. After quietly going into effect in August 2012, virtually no one recognized the logistical quagmire that had been created. The outcome includes onerous consequences for offenders, confusing responsibilities for professionals, and costly security theater for the public.

Mandated Reporting - CPS

Child protection investigations will now be mandated by POR status; not by new allegations of abuse or established indicators of risk. Because the laws are so new, and
investigations are mandatory, CPS social workers are unsure of what to do with reports; especially if offenders are on the POR for reasons other than a sex offense, or if offenses occurred many years ago.

While some SO’s are being required to undergo new risk assessments or psychosexual evaluations, CPS seems to be minimally looking for evidence of completion of sex offender treatment. For offenses that occurred decades ago, or otherwise in the absence of good records, CPS authorities appear to be accepting letters from professionals who have knowledge or evidence that offenders at one time completed treatment. CPS workers have signaled that some kind of a “certificate of completion” might be sufficient to discharge CPS responsibilities to at least ensure kids are not living with an untreated sex offender.

Colleagues have occasionally participated in discussions about what constitutes “completing treatment,” with few agreements on unifying standards. Perhaps even more confounding is that completion of treatment, of course, is a static event. Dynamic circumstances may result in ongoing demands for psychosexual assessments or other measures for CPS authorities to perpetually determine that kids are safe to be around specific offenders – or more accurately, whether certain offenders are safe to be around minors.

Child protection laws were intended to be specific to protecting identified children. Reports will still require a specific child (or children) to be the identified target of a CPS investigation, but these new laws now effectively shift the CPS focus from a specific child to ANY child who lives with or has unsupervised contact with a predatory offender.

Other adults living in a household with a child cannot ignore this new law. Adults who are not mandated reporters might still have a duty to report. A parent who fails to report a former abuser in their household meets grounds for
substantial child endangerment, and risks legal consequences that can include losing their own children. The abuser doesn't have to be a caregiver or in a position of authority; simply anyone who is/was on the POR, even teenagers.

If offenders
have children, move in with partners who have kids, or perhaps move to a new county, they can be subject to repeat investigations based simply on POR status. The state has a system (SSIS) to track social service investigations but those records are scant and subject to expiration. Minimally, to manage repeat investigations, it seems a permanent predatory offender data base will be necessary to track sex offenders for life. Documenting treatment might be the easy part - that information could be added to existing POR records. New protocols will be needed to periodically re-evaluate risk - assuming risk is going to be a factor.

Consider the implications under mandated reporting: if a professional is aware of someone that has ever been on the POR is living with or having unsupervised contact with different children, ostensibly each child is the subject of a new report –unless we are, in reality, reporting the offender. No new allegations or risks are required to mandate a report, just knowing the status of the offender. This is a reporting minefield for professionals - putting most mandated reporters at risk for legal consequences and licensing board actions.

How might these laws affect offenders in Minnesota?

Guys who have sexually abused typically come to understand they have not only caused harm to others, but that their own lives are irrevocably changed.  Public records and POR will often prevent them from obtaining housing, attending schools, finding jobs, serving in the military, and will block virtually every career path that requires a license – even if the offense occurred as a juvenile. Now, for anyone who has sexually offended, having children, or at least being a parent, is no longer a right.

As part of the 2012 legislative package, there was another change made to state laws that so far has gotten little attention: “
birth match.” Essentially, when fully implemented, “birth match” will compare public birth records with state POR records and will automatically notify CPS when anyone who has ever been subject to POR is listed on a birth certificate. Along with well-wishes from family and friends, targeted parents should expect a visit from CPS. Investigations are mandated. The implications of these new state laws are that sex offenders should not have children, live with children, or be around children, without ongoing monitoring by the state.

It appears the burden of proof is now on sex offenders to demonstrate, whenever requested, they are safe to be around kids. If they have kids, failure to cooperate with CPS could result in a
termination of parental rights. The adverse effects of these new policies are already having damaging consequences on former offenders, and are destabilizing their families. Some guys have been ordered out of their homes until they can provide evidence of SO treatment.

This state law effectively invokes parenting as a privilege. Every offender’s risk to children is now presumptive. CPS does not have to justify their intrusion with a complaint – having ever been a predatory offender is probable cause. With both parents subject to arbitrary welfare checks, there is an ever-looming threat of CPS intervention. Offenders need to perpetually prove they are fit to be parents and safe to be around children; their partners need to demonstrate they are appropriately protecting their kids from
child endangerment.

Consider these likely outcomes... with the prospect of life-long CPS investigations, how many sexual offenders will simply choose to be childless?  To avoid embarrassment or risk to family and friends will SO’s decline invitations to events or avoid places where they could be thought to be unsupervised around children?  How many fathers will be easily sued for child custody by the mother of their children?  Or will dads recognize the futility of fighting for custody and voluntarily surrender their children?  Pretty discouraging future for teenagers with sex offenses? As a practical matter, how many of these guys will find a partner who will choose to raise kids with someone who is subject to lifetime monitoring by CPS?

Most sex offenders are already profoundly discouraged about ever escaping the SO label. Beyond legitimate worries about housing and employment, they have to get through at least ten years of POR without a single error (felony non-compliance). This nasty piece of legislation makes “predatory offender” a lifelong label, introduces more impediments to recovery, and will make Good Lives a lot more difficult to achieve. Even conscientious guys who are making outstanding efforts to repair damaged relationships are destined to a more dismal future.

Some of our colleagues on professional listservs have recently reported client suicides. We shouldn’t ignore the likelihood that stigmatizing, onerous, and largely unwarranted restrictions are going to result in more offenders experiencing diminishing hope and recovery fatigue. For most people in arduous circumstances, feelings of hopelessness are typically transitory, even if momentarily acute. Public policies that place immutable restrictions on sex offenders simply by status are misguided and unjust. Hope for a better future is both a motivating resource and an essential component for healthy, productive lives. We should not be surprised that the loss of hope, even for the most resilient clients, comes with a tipping point. The only uncertainty is where that point is, and what sad outcomes are on the other side.

There might be a little good news

It appears the language in state statutes went beyond the requirements of CAPTA. If attempts at legislative relief can avoid public perceptions of being soft on sex offenders or putting children at risk, legislators MIGHT be able to rollback some of the unwarranted requirements. Some CPS authorities believe onerous investigations might go beyond the legislative intent of the new statutes. State officials also indicate that CPS guidelines are advisory and each county will be responsible for establishing their own protocol for receiving reports and conducting investigations. That double-edge sword can be moderated by good training and professional teamwork.

It is also encouraging that the news and concerns about this problematic legislation spread quickly in the professional community. In January more than a hundred professional stakeholders, including many MnATSA members, met to discuss the new legislation, the problems that have ensued, the latitude for interpretation, and the potential for redress. Some stakeholders have raised the question of a court challenge. MnATSA leadership has indicated that these imprudent laws are a legislative priority.

The POR-CPS pipeline might just be the latest example of unfounded public policies around sexual offender management – a nationwide trend rooted more in misinformation, fear, and anger than reasonable measures for public safety. There is no constituency for sexual offenders; it is up to conscientious professionals to promote prudent legislation or judicial relief. Until then, professionals can work together to comply with existing policies, mitigate misguided consequences, and help offenders and their families to strive for better lives.

* A comment on labels: As much as we try to avoid the sex offender label, these guys in Minnesota will have to get used to it. The State has given lifetime status to sex offenders and, unless repealed, it is a label these guys will have to learn to live with. And why the frequent reference to these “guys”? Because 99%+ of offenders subject to SORN are male. If ever we had good demographic data about where prevention efforts should be targeted, “guys” is a good place to start.

Minnesota Mandated Reporting Laws:

MN DHS Child Maltreatment Guidelines (CPS investigations):
View an interactive training on mandatory reporting in Minnesota

Jon Brandt, MSW, LICSW
A postscript (June 16, 2013)

Unfortunately, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned for 2013 without resolving these problems. In February, a collaboration of MN stakeholders put forth legislation (MN Senate File 460) to fix the POR-CPS pipeline. In the final days of the 2013 MN legislative session, the MN Senate passed the bill, but it was tabled in the House. When legislative changes to this misguided public policy were pending, many counties in Minnesota had essentially put the "pipeline" on hold. Now, as county authorities re-evaluate interpretation and local implementation of applicable child protection measures, hopefully professionals will recognize unwarranted intrusions and mitigate counter-productive outcomes to former offenders and their families. MN DHS, county authorities, and professional licensing boards may need to clarify muddy issues that remain, particularly around mandated reporting. Hopefully, the 2014 legislature will take another run at closing the POR-CPS pipeline. JB


  1. Hey thanks a lot to all you people in power who have once again wasted a LOT of time AND tax payer money! So what happens when a bunch of the RSOs, who can no longer deal with the choking laws, go off the grid? Now you have a bunch of folks that you have NO IDEA where they are. Will they re-offend? Of course not! Recidivism is 5% or less, but hey who cares right? We're punishing SEX offenders!

  2. Wow...and the madness continues. And all so that politicians can get re-elected. These pols will learn that as their net widens, they will reach their own "tipping point" and the backlash from voters will not be kind to them. Ironically, it is only a matter of time before a MN politician finds himself under the control of these laws.

  3. No in Minnesota a sex crime is a sex crime and it does not matter if its a calling someone a slut or if its forced rape at gun point, They are all treated the same and classified the same way. So your absolutely right about it being Harassment and violating constitutional rights.

  4. here is what i would like to know.
    i'm a RSO and done in may this year. but i just had cps at my house because of my step sons and this NEW law.
    i am a good dad to them and my other son who lives with his mom i made a mistake when i was 16 and because of that this blog says they may or may not be doomed to deal with this forever
    i dont want anyone of my family to go through this and just want stuff to be done with

    i'm not a monster i didnt hurt anyone i simply made a mistake as a kid and millions of other people have and continue to make the same mistake i did but if it gets to bad i cant have my kids go through this all the time

    is there any relief for me ? is there anything that can be done ? it sounds like not and i just have to learn to live alone and with out the people i love or that love me

  5. Dear Anonymous,
    I can understand how discouraging the POR-CPS pipeline must seem to someone like yourself that is subject to this law in Minnesota. At the end of this blog I wrote that there might be some good news, and indeed there is. Many professionals who work in this field have recognized the problems that were inadvertently created by this overreaching legislation. Over the last six months mental health professionals, child protection authorities, probation agents, county attorneys, judges, and representatives from the MN Department of Human Services have come together and advised state legislators that the law that was passed last year contained language and outcomes that were unintended. The consequences have not only been unwarranted disruptions in the families of former offenders, it has been unnecessarily burdensome to county authorities. Legislators heard the concerns and there is a bill currently before the Minnesota legislature that, if passed and signed by the governor, will roll back the scope of this legislation. Because the bill is still subject to the legislative process, it would be premature to predict the outcome, but at the end of the legislative session this month, I will provide an update. There is every reason to be hopeful. Thank you for sharing your story and reinforcing the point that misguided laws might do more harm than good. Best wishes. – Jon Brandt

  6. How can I find out what my county's interpretation of this statute is?

    1. I would suggest you call the county and ask for child protection intake. You should be able to get such information anonymously. Best wishes. JB

  7. Genocide is "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group". To remove bias from this, the definition should not be based up a requirement for belonging to a race, or a religion or a nation. The definition should be based upon numbers. So, definition of genocide should begin:

    Genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of any significantly large group”, and then debate can ensue as to how large a group it must be to qualify.

    Genocide comes in levels and degrees. It is best known for the most extreme degree of simply trying to kill all members of the group. But that is one end of the spectrum of what qualifies as genocide and when genocide begins, it usually begins at the milder side and slowly increases towards the goal of killing all members of the group.

    When deliberate coordinated actions are taken against an entire group to:
    • Denying them the ability to earn a living
    • Denying them housing
    • Denying them the right to bear and raise children
    • Transferring their children away from them
    • Inflict serious mental harm, often through extreme social ostracism
    • To disenfranchise them from politics
    • To disenfranchise them from society
    • To disenfranchise them from equal protection of the laws and constitutional rights
    • To destroy the essential foundations of their ability to live
    • Make it impossible for them to live, to function, disintegrating all aspects of their live, political, social, culture, economic, personal security, liberty, health, dignity; with an increasing number of the group being outright killed
    • To dehumanize them so that others feel it is okay to do this to all members of that group

    These are the beginning stages of genocide.

    What is being done to registered sex offenders is the first stages of planned genocide of the group labeled as sex offenders.

  8. How absurd is it that one must register after being charged - NOT CONVICTED - of kidnapping.

  9. I had turned myself in at the age of 13 and was charged when criminal sexual conduct. I plead guilty and was given a choice between juvenile "prison" or treatment. I chose treatment. I have never reoffended or even been accused of any form of seed crime since. In fact my risk level is set as N/A. I live in Minnesota. At the age of 18 I was released from probation being told I was now forced to register as a sex offender as an adult for a crime I committed as a juvenile. Of which I have now been told should never have happened having to register for a juvenile crime. I am now 32 years old. Finding a job has proven near impossible. Finding a landlord willing to rent to me is a long and arduous task. I have been shunned by my biological family. I'm thankful that I at least have friends who are loyal and do not judge me for my juvenile crime. They to me are my family. I finally met a woman who looks past the label and sees me for who I am and not for what I have done. We got married and had a child together, only to have cps come knocking on our door to begin and investigation as whether or not I am a danger to my son, again stemming from a juvenile crime at the age of 13. I did their psychosexual evaluation and was labeled as not dangerous to children. From there my wife and I were subjected to further harassment, including cps forcing us to work with a public health nurse, threat of losing our son if we had to reschedule a doctors appointment for him during the winter time because we utilize the public transportation service, neither of us have a drivers license and we didn't want to bring our son out into below 0 temperatures, my wife was forced to see a mental health specialist for absolutely no reason other than the fact that she is married to a registered sex offender, and then forced into therapy because "there must be something wrong with you". During the process I was fired from the first job I was able to obtain in 7 years because it was " mandatory "for me to be present during ALL cps meetings regardless of my work schedule. Pardon the language but, when the hell does this harassment shit stop? For months following all of this there was extreme tension in the relationship with my wife to the point that we almost went through a divorce. Thankfully things between her and I have gotten back on track but the point remains. When does it stop?