Friday, February 4, 2011

Michael Farnsworth created a monster

Larger viewSince I haven't gotten anything recent for Chris, I'd like to share something from Minnesota Public Radio from 2007. It is an article on how sex offender laws are based on myth and not fact. The focus is on the part of the article addressing the MN-MSOP, particularly fropm the very man who designed the program in place.

The Minnesota civil commitment program is considered a model for other states. But the man who designed the program says it's become irrelevant because of politics. 

Michael Farnsworth says high-risk sex offenders are often very difficult to rehabilitate. But he says the Minnesota civil commitment program used a medical model based on science, to give offenders a chance to prove they can change.

Farnsworth left his job as head of the sex offender program in 2003, when the model program was caught in the middle of election-year politics. 

"The attorney general at the time was, 'I'm going to be tough on crime, the governor is soft on crime and soft on sex offenders.' The governor was declaring he was not going to allow any sex offenders out on his watch," Farnsworth recalls. 

"The message patients in the program got was, 'It doesn't matter how hard you work or whether you might recover, you're not getting out.' So if you want to undermine a program, that's the best way to do it," says Farnsworth. "Get the chief executive officer of your state to tell them that no matter how hard they work, they'll never get out. At that point I said, 'I can't do this work anymore.'" 

Farnsworth says too often sex offender management is left to what he calls the hysterics and politics of the moment. He says the debate needs to move to another level. 

"We haven't come to that intellectually honest place about what we really want to do with the group," 

Farnsworth says. "If you wanted to look at your best bang for the dollar you'd simply lock anyone up who's a sex offender and not pretend that you're providing treatment. You'd save a lot of money."

"I think it's more politically palatable to say, 'We are trying to provide treatment,' than to say, 'We just want to lock people up forever,'" says Farnsworth. "But the net effect, given the climate we live in, is that we end up locking them up forever, but doing so at the high cost of treatment." 

Farnsworth says that decision has consequences. He says the state spends millions on a program politicians don't trust, to treat sex offenders who will never be released. 

Farnsworth wonders, would that money be better spent on programs to treat the troubled kids who grow up to be sex offenders?