Frustrated by legislative inaction, a group of civilly-committed sex offenders in Moose Lake, Minnesota, ran a voter-registration drive in the small town for four months leading up to this year's midterm elections, hoping to get as many as eight sex offenders elected to office in Moose Lake and Carlson County.
Just a couple of weeks before election day, at least 175 of the 460 offenders locked up indefinitely at the prison-like Moose Lake Sex Offender Treatment Program (MSOP)—convicted of rape, child molestation and other sex crimes—had already been registered to vote. Those new voters represented almost 20% of the 925 total voters registered in the Town of Moose Lake.
"The people in town just think we're all monsters out here, and that's not true," said Kenny Daywitt, 32, a Moose Lake city council write-in candidate who was indefinitely committed and sent to MSOP after his prison sentence ended for a sexual assault from 13 years ago. "I'm definitely a person that has committed a sex offense, and I take full accountability for that. However, that's not the person who I am today."
Daywitt and other MSOP residents running for office said they would demand more freedom and reintegration into the community if elected. Trips outside the facility without shackles or handcuffs, as well as halfway houses for MSOP residents, who are progressing in their treatment, are some of the reforms MSOP residents and candidates said they would pursue.
In the 20-year history of MSOP, only two offenders have been provisionally discharged from the program, which critics call a de-facto life sentence. In fact, Minnesota has the largest per capita population of civilly-committed sex offenders in the U.S.
A state task force and a federal judge made recommendations to Minnesota lawmakers to address those problems, but in 2014, legislators failed to act.
"People here are fed up with what isn't happening and should be happening," Daywitt said. "They want big changes, and getting our people elected is one way to make that happen."
This isn't the first time MSOP residents have tried to influence local politics. A get-out-the-vote effort by offenders in 2002 scared the townsfolk into registering in large numbers and supporting the establishment candidates.
Because MSOP is run by the state's Department of Human Services, any candidates from MSOP who win election will be unable to close the facility or change rules on their own. If elected, they might be forced to attend city council meetings and court hearings via Skype. And their prior convictions might prohibit any of them from being sworn into office in the first place.
Sources: www.startribune.com, www.dailymail.co.uk, KARE-TV
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