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Rupa Shenoy, MPR News 90.3 FM, Published August 10 2013

Sex offender program reports first suicide

A man committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program took his own life last weekend, Minnesota Department of Human Services officials said Monday. It was the first suicide in the program’s history.

The 45-year-old man died Aug. 3 at the program’s Moose Lake facility after an apparent suicide attempt the day before, DHS Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry said.

“We have natural deaths – we have people who have died of cancers and other diseases – but this is the first – as far as we know – this is the only suicide in the history of the sex offender treatment program,” Barry said.

Several other offenders at Moose Lake identified the man as Ray Messer.

Messer was civilly committed to the state’s treatment program after two criminal sexual conduct convictions: fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1991 and second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2007.

Barry said six cases this year involved self-inflicted injuries that required medical attention. According to the department, emergency room staff classified two as attempted suicides.

Last year, nine men at the Moose Lake treatment facility attempted to harm themselves; officials saidy one tried to die by suicide. Barry said on average there have been about nine or 10 cases of self-inflicted injuries a year.

But offenders held at Moose Lake say those numbers don’t match their perceptions. They say they see a handful of attempts every week.

Wallace Beaulieau, an offender committed to the program in 2006 after convictions for kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct in the third degree, said offenders attempt suicide after experiencing stress and frustration.

Beaulieau said he tried to kill himself twice by cutting himself with the cheap razors for sale in the facility canteen. He said they’re a common tool.

A federal lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s sex offender program claims that it doesn’t provide real treatment.

Beaulieau said offenders are closely watching the work of a court-mandated task force appointed to recommend changes that would protect sex offenders’ constitutional rights. There was speculation last legislative session that if lawmakers didn’t take action, a federal judge would force changes. The Department of Human Services is negotiating a settlement to the lawsuit.

Every development causes an emotional wave through Moose Lake, Beaulieau said.

“You know, the last few months everybody was hoping things were changing. DHS was going back and forth with the attorneys about settling the case, and everybody thought that was going to be something that would be a big change … and none of it happened,” he said. “The Legislature didn’t do anything, so, it was like [we] went from a big high to a pretty fast low.”

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program currently has 683 clients, who each cost the state $326 a day. In 2011, the state’s legislative auditor documented a chronic problem with clinical understaffing.