Offender Screening

By Stefany, John | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, May/June 2004 | Go to article overview

Offender Screening


Stefany, John, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal


Likely predators released despite red-flag testing

It was a sensational crime: a college student kidnapped in a mall parking lot while talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone. Nine days later, the case took on an even higher profile when police arrested a recently released sex offender in the case.

Minnesota, like many states, allows high-risk sex offenders to be committed indefinitely to secure hospitals for treatment upon completion of their prison sentences. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. had been released, however. At age 50, officials said, his risk of re-offending was low.

Little-noticed among the information provided about Rodrigue?, following his arrest was the fact that he had scored 13 on a diagnostic tool called the Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool. Health and science reporter Josephine Marcotty, who had written previously about sex offenders, knew that a score of 13 on the MnSOST-R was high enough to trigger the commitment process. His case raised a compelling question: How many more like him were out there? The paper decided to examine the scores of other sex offenders.

The MnSOST-R is a widely used actuarial tool for predicting recidivism among adult sex offenders. The state began developing the test in 9 1999 1 after a report found that it needed a more consistent process for identifying dangerous sex offenders.

The test has 16 criteria, measuring things such as:

* The number of an offender's sex-related convictions.

* Use of force.

* Age ranges of victims.

* Prison behavior.

* Participation in chemical dependency and sex offender treatment.

The weighted results can produce a maximum score of 31. Inmates scoring 13 or more are considered to be at the highest risk of re-offending, with 72 percent predicted to commit another sex crime within six years. Offenders in this highest-risk group are the ones who prison officials usually recommend for commitment.

Although 28 percent of offenders scoring 13 or above will not offend, statistically speaking, supporters of actuarial tests say the MnSOST-R is a more reliable predictor of future criminal behavior than individual judgments based on clinical evaluations by psychiatrists and prison officials.

The Star Tribune requested the MnSOST-R score of each level-three offender who had been screened with the tool, along with an indication of whether prison officials had recommended the offender for commitment, whether the county attorney had followed up on the recommendation and whether a judge had agreed to the commitment petition. The paper also asked where the offender was now - released, committed or in criminal custody.

To avoid a fight over whether the scores were medical information and therefore private data, the newspaper did not ask for names or other identifying information.

Within days of the newspaper's request, Minnesota's governor announced that from then on the Corrections Department would refer all level-three offenders to county attorneys for possible commitment. The prosecutor would then have to decide whether the offender's score and other factors warranted keeping him locked up. …

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