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County earmarks money to screen sexual predators

The Wadena County Board set aside money to prepare for the release of a convicted sexual predator a year from now.

The board authorized Wadena County Social Services to establish a $50,000 financial reserve for potential costs related to the July 4, 2007, release of a convicted sex offender back into Wadena County at their June 22 meeting.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd has not released the sex offender's name, but said the individual is serving a seven-year sentence on three counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree. When contacted, other Wadena County officials said they were not aware of the offender's identity.

The Minnesota attorney general's office warned Ladd that this individual may still qualify to be classified as a sexual psychopathic personality-sexually dangerous person upon release from a criminal sentence next year. Ladd said sexually dangerous persons are individuals whose sexually deviant nature poses a risk to themselves or others and who are likely to re-offend. She said this is the first time the county has faced the release of a potentially sexually dangerous person.

Ladd said she contacted Paul Sailer, director of social services, about the need to cover the cost of evaluating this individual and other sex offenders, and they determined that social services should provide the funding. The financial reserve is funded by interest generated from the social services' budget. The reserve will cover the screening process and evaluations, of which two are typically necessary, at a total cost of $2,500.

Sailer said if the sex offender is evaluated to be sexually dangerous, the state attorney general's office is required to present to a court in the city where the crime was committed a reason why this person needs to be in a state mental health facility, such as in St. Peter or Moose Lake.

"The key thing that has to be determined in a hearing is that this person is mentally ill and dangerous," Sailer said about the differing degrees of sexual psychopathic personality.

Ladd said if the attorney general is successful, a sex offender will be committed until he is considered to no longer be sexually dangerous. She added that the evaluation cost is minimal up front, but timing is critical in screening sex offenders.

"We don't want to have a catastrophic financial cost to the county while we hold somebody while we take this to court," Ladd said. "And we certainly don't want to have a catastrophic consequence to the county because this person was actually released back into our community and re-offends."

If the hearing is not held before the sex offender's suspended release, Sailer said the county would have to place the individual on a hold in a state mental health facility at a cost of $1,000 per day. Sailer said state law requires counties to cover the cost of holds, but state and federal funds and grants are available for civil commitment costs after the appropriate hearing.

Minnesota law requires the Department of Corrections to give early notice of the release of sex offenders, but Ladd said counties sometimes receive only six to nine months of notice. She said this is not always enough time for sex offenders to be properly evaluated before their release from their criminal sentence.

Ladd said there are four to five other sex offenders who may qualify for evaluations in upcoming years.

"It really is important that we are proactive in responding to this issue," Ladd said.

She said Todd County spent $32,000 and Crow Wing County spent $217,000 on several similar cases.

Sailer said interest from the social services' budget that is funding the reserve used to go to a general fund, and the county will have to decide if they want to generate additional tax dollars to cover those expenses.