May 16, 2007 4:40 AM PDT

Police Blotter: Imprisoned sex offenders demand PCs

Police Blotter is a weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: Sex offenders held in Minnesota facility say it was illegal for guards to confiscate personal computers used in their rooms.

When: Court of Appeals of Minnesota rules on May 8.

Outcome: Sex offenders have no right to possess PCs.

What happened, according to court documents:
The sleepy town of Moose Lake is home to one of Minnesota's sex offender programs, where "people who are committed by courts as a sexual psychopathic personality or a sexual dangerous person" are civilly committed. The unit goes by the generic name of "Therapeutic Concepts Unit."

Last April, four patients escaped from a second TCU location, which raised alarms in nearby communities. During their escape, the sex offenders removed metal bars and broke security glass in windows.

One of the men was a convicted rapist, who was identified and captured after appearing on America's Most Wanted a few weeks later. The other three were caught within hours of their escape.

That escape prompted Minnesota to immediately confiscate TCU patients' computers for security inspections. Rodger Robb, a TCU patient, believed that his computer would not be returned.

He sued, claiming a violation of his due process rights, and was joined by fellow patient Larry Schultz. Other reasons the administration gave for the confiscations include: The rooms are small and electrical outlets are limited.

"The point about this computer thing that is so angering to so many people is that they painted with this real broad brush," Robb said, according to "I have never been accused of misusing my computer for anything. I have never misused my computer for anything."

The confiscation is part of a broader, planned crackdown on personal computers owned by TCU patients, with administrators arguing that the machines are used to store sexual images and ones in common areas should be used instead. That crackdown was put on hold until Robb's lawsuit was decided, though. (A previous Police Blotter article described how one TCU patient claimed to have a First Amendment right to have Playboy images on his PC.)

Robb and Schultz lost before a trial judge, who rejected their request for an injunction and ruled that the duo had "fallen far short" of demonstrating that they would suffer a violation of their rights.

So did a state appeals court, which said last week that administrators enjoy great latitude "to accommodate a growing patient population and provide a safe and secure facility for patients and staff."

Excerpts from the appeals court's opinion:
Appellants argue that the state infringed upon their due process rights under U.S. Const. amend. V and Minn. Const. art. I, Sec. 7 because they were deprived of property interests. Although the protocol does not allow personal computers in the patients' rooms, they have access to common-use computers and may transfer appropriate data from their personal computer hard drives to disks. Appellants speculate that the state intends to destroy Robb's computer and appellants' other property. Because he has copious amounts of saved material on his computer, Robb speculates that it would be impossible to put it onto disks.

Appellants cite no evidence to support these contentions. And it is important for the state to have the ability to adjust policies to further MSOP's safety goals. Gary Grimm, MSOP program director, specifically denies appellants' contentions in his affidavit, stating "if the patient does not send out his computer, (MSOP) will place it in storage. (MSOP) will not destroy or otherwise dispose of patients' computers." (Editor's note: MSOP stands for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.)

The relationship between the parties is that appellants are committed in the TCU at MSOP, and respondents operate the treatment facility. The district court found that the statutory requirements allow the state "wide latitude" to develop programs and policies for the administration of the program, including disallowing contraband contained on computers. This is consistent with the articulated policy to maintain a "secure and orderly environment that is safe for persons in treatment and staff and supportive of the treatment program."

As the district court found, it would be a heavy administrative burden to require that the district court review each item of personal property to determine whether it complies with protocol. Absent a clear violation of the patients' rights, the state must exercise its professional judgment to accommodate a growing patient population and provide a safe and secure facility for patients and staff. On the current record, it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court, after considering each of the governing factors, to deny appellants' motion to temporarily enjoin the state from holding or confiscating appellants' personal property.

See more CNET content tagged:
Minnesota, Police Blotter, patient, facility, state


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Prisoners demand PCs
It is astounding that we confuse rights with privileges. Prisoners
have no rights except those basic rights afforded any human:
adequate food and shelter, and basic healthcare. Our system of
judgment attempts to treat some prisoners better than others as
a function of the severity of crimes committed, but such
treatment falls into a "privilege" category and is discretionary.

PCs are certainly discretionary. And they are the source of all
kinds of communication and data that are harmful to the
recovery of sexual predators if, indeed, it is possible to recover
from such a malady. This is true whether a person is imprisoned
or not.

When last I checked, the basic rights described in the
Constitution and Bill of Rights do not define rights directly
supporting the continued development of prurient interests. Nor
should they be hijacked to do so. Having a computer in a prison
seems like an oxymoron to me ... and complaints that PCs have
been taken away illustrate our social confusion about rights
versus discretionary privileges.
Posted by tom.winans (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Prisoners and PCs
I was actually surprised to hear that prisoners had access to PCs in the first place. It sounds as though these are just PCs, though, without an internet connection.
We should be supporting using PCs for rehabilitation. These are people that will be getting out again and it's be nice to think that they will have/maintain a work skill and will be employable.
If the PCs are wiped when the prisoners get them then they could write a novel or study programming or anything they want to. Heck, allowing them to connect to a Prison Intranet that has self-help stuff or reference materials sounds like a good idea.
Forcing someone to rot in their cell doesn't sound like the best course of action for the society you will release them back into. Letting someone have a tool to improve their lives when they need something positive to look forward to sounds like a good idea.
The constitutional right for a Sex Offender to store Playboy images? Not such a good idea...
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
Link Flag
Prisoners demand PC'S
Well said! and thanks for saying it...
Posted by ohpoppycock (3 comments )
Link Flag
inmate behavior determines treatment, not crimes
"Our system of judgment attempts to treat some prisoners better than others as a function of the severity of crimes committed...". I can't speak for our system of judgement, but I can tell you that inmates are not treated according to the severity of their crimes. That just wouldn't work, because many murderers, for instance, are basically non-criminal types, while your car thief or check-kiter might be a mean MoFo. You handle them by their behavior inside, not their crimes outside.
Posted by fatboyfatboyfatboy (5 comments )
Link Flag
Gotta protect the children........
Hmmm I read this one differently....

These are not incarcerated individuals. These are civil commitments after incarceration. It is our countries way of a life sentence for crimes that cannot command a life sentence.

The issue of prurient pics is bs.... It is a matter of tightening the noose a little tighter.
Posted by fhharris (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I would agree
But were they commited in leiu of part of their sentence?

If so, then they have no actual right to be allowed to use a PC.

If they were commited involuntarily after there sentence terminated, by states that commit them as a way of illegally extending their sentence, then, then they not only have the right to their PC's they have a right to leave.

The trouble is that lawmakers, have started tacking on civil commitments because they are convinced that the offenders will reoffend.

If you want them locked up for life then change the laws to allow it, otherwise when a sentence is done, a sentence is done.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
You have the right to...
You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

You are innocent until proven guilty, but once proven guilty and sentenced a prison term, your rights are to complete your sentenced time.

Anybody can demand anything... getting it however is another thing.

Especially for sex offenders. They've deprived at least one child from living a normal life. That child will have to live with the awful memories those offenders inflicted upon them for the rest of their lives.

Prison is not a happy go-easy life of leasure! For sex offenders it should not be pleasurable. Giving in to such demands will make their time a lot easier. But their victims don't get off as lightly.

So if they want a PC, go out and find an old 8086 or 80286 CPU with 1-4MB Ram in it. Remove the power supply and set it in their cell! (* GRIN *)

They now have a PC as they demanded! (* CHUCKLE *)

Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sex offenders do...
have a right to a computer. With much of the world being computer operated they have a right to develop, hone and improve life and work skills that will help them get jobs when they get out of the slammer.

However, because of what they did and what they are in the slammer for they have no right to privacy on those computers and like themselves and their cells should have their computers searched and checked weekly or monthly by authorities. They should have no say in what software or settings are used and if they are found to have been visiting sites and looking at materials that are inappropriate because of their crime then a extra year should be added to their sentence for each violation.

Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dead wrong
Prisoners have very few "rights." They gave up those rights when they were convicted (arguably, they gave them up when they broke the law). The only real right prisoners have is to shelter and food. That's all they deserve. They are criminals. So, access to a device (which is considered a luxury item in many law-abiding, hard working family households) is not a right. Why put guards on IT duty? Why should guards have to search prisoner's computers, be aware of all of the different software apps out there that can hide data, etc? Your idea is just plain stupid.
Posted by thenet411 (415 comments )
Link Flag
Not Right
Another posted already about the distinction between a right and a privilege or desire. Prisoners might benefit from having a computer, and they might want a computer for such benefits, but they don't have a right to have one or have access to one. They might be given access to a computer, they might even be allowed one in their cell, but they don't have a right to it. Denying a computer to a prisoner does not deprive the prisoner of a right; it merely denies a privilege other prisoners possibly, and free people certainly, are permitted.

Whether you like the idea of a prisoner being denied a privilege like access to a computer is irrelevant to the prisoner's rights.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Link Flag
Look at this madman tell us that sex offenders have a right to computers in prison. This is what happens to the liberal mind. It feels sorry for sex offenders. It feels sorry for jihadists. Its a mental disorder plain and simple.
Posted by gerhard_schroeder (311 comments )
Link Flag
These are prisoners!
I believe we miss the point.

These ARE prisoners. They are incarcerated for crimes they have committed. Incarceration should NOT include the 'comforts' of "home". Access to computers does not mean that prisoners need to have them in their cells. I am against cruel and inhumane treatment however, if serving prison time becomes more comfortable than the lives of many in the "inner-city slums" (for example) then it would appear that going to prison is a step up.

Prison and/or incarceration should be a deterrent against committing a crime in the first place. The more comfortable and the more "Rights" that are given to these convicted criminals, the less the prison system is a deterrent in of itself.

The more you "soften" the prison stay, the less it becomes a punishment and the more it becomes an acceptable way of life.

As soon as a criminal violates someone else's rights, they forfeit their own. Not only their right to travel freely, but their rights beyond the "Necessities of life"...Food, housing, clothing.

Perhaps that is why crime rates grow each year...lack of punishment as a deterrent.
Posted by bdering (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better lives in prison..
For a sociology class in high school, we did a walk-through of a prison and I have to say that the "prisoners" had access to better equipment, food, and facilities than many of the people in my average middle class town. One of the men who spoke to us told a story of a man who was a repeat offender because his life was BETTER inside than it was out. It seems to me there is a big problem here if you want to go back to prison because you get to play with better toys, especially on my tax dollar.
Posted by washedaway (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If you think your little walk though showed you the reality of
prison, you've been drinking the koolade. I used to work in a
prison, and it is not cushy in anyway, shape or form.

The food is devoid of nourishment, steel sheets for beds with
two inch thick mattresses, violence, overcrowding (2-3 guys in a
cell designed for one).

Some prison work shops have computers, but of course they're
not online.

I don't know what this so called prison was you walked through,
but it wasn't your average prison.
Posted by Gromit801 (393 comments )
Link Flag
Their rights and all that other crap that goes with it. Send them to Afghanistan and let them Sex offend over there and make sure they ask about their rights and their PC.
I hope the system and officers aren't going to bite into this right's stuff, where was the Innocent Victim's Rights while they were abused? ... Udo
Posted by freenclear1 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That tired old refrain
"...where was the Innocent Victim's Rights while they were abused?"

That is why the offenders have been deprived of their liberty and are in jail. They are being punished for offending against the victim's rights.

Still, even in prison, certain rights accrue to all people. For example the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution States: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

This obviously applies to convicts and punishing innocent people makes no sense.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
wah wah wah
I don't think I misread this part:

"The confiscation is part of a broader, planned crackdown on
personal computers owned by TCU patients, with administrators
arguing that the machines are used to store sexual images and
ones in common areas should be used instead."

They *DO* have access to computers. They have been denied a
private computer in their cells. I don't see a problem here at all,
except for the fact that they were allowed private computers to
begin with. These are convicted sex offenders after all (rapists,
child molesters and the like), as noted by others the only rights
they now have are the rights to basic living needs. I don't see
how a private computer fits into that.

If they want to explore a tech field (programming, for instance),
they can do so on the provided "common area" machines. If
that's a problem for them - tough. If you can't do the time, don't
do the crime.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why are the jail part of the Corrections Department?
I think we can take our eye off the target as was demonstrated
in the Stanford experiment with prisoners and guards.

How do we get more good behavior? I think is an important
question to be answered. With a such a high return rate its easy
to say what is being done in the Corrections Department needs
to be examined. Finding a solution is more difficult.

We can train wild animals with rewards, can we train humans as

If hope is a key to success how is returning a person to society
with the same skill set or less compared to current society needs
a way for society to expect a more successful person has

How do we train people to use computer oriented skills without
the use of a computer? Tough situation.

Is a computer access a right? Depends on your view point, in
my opinion. If we took people out of society for society
behavior correction then we need to teach better behavior
appropriated for how we expect them to act when returned to
society. If not do something else and expect something else.

Posted by jimoase (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lots they can do
Computers are used primarily in white collar jobs. Yes, there are computers in many industrial jobs but those are usually the "push these buttons in this order" kind of computers. Using the Internet, MS Office, etc. is not part of those jobs. Let ex-cons do manual labor and blue collar jobs. There are plenty of law-abiding people wanting white collar jobs and not enough of them to go around. Why should people that have already demonstrated how useless they are have a chance at those jobs too?
Posted by thenet411 (415 comments )
Link Flag
Think of the sex offenders
I love the liberal reactions here... that somehow sex offenders have a "right" to entertainment. Sorry, prison is a punishment. You rape a child, you lose rights. Liberalism is a mental disorder.
Posted by gerhard_schroeder (311 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your insane ramblings are
a mental disorder. It is impossible to have polite civil discourse with you because you are so full of predjuice and hate.

I am on the left side of center but no revolutionary. But you twist peoples meanings and hurl around the term liberal as an deadly epithet.

When you learn to separate your emotions from your reason, come back and join the debate as an adult. Because whatever your pyhsical age, your emotional ages seems to be stuck around seven years old.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Won't someone *please* think of the sex offenders?

It's scary to think that people like you might be found voting for
our country's leaders. That's why 911 happened. That's why
innocent people are being tortured without cause. That's why
corruption is rampant throughout our govenment right now.
That's why our constitutional rights are being urinated upon on
a regular basis. That's why we're mired in an illegal war with no
end in sight and not even a plan to move forward toward peace.

Conservatism (read: nazi-ism) is a mental disorder.

Now that we've got the name calling out of the way, explain to
me how it applies to this article again?

Maybe I should point out that I don't disagree with your
apparent stand on this topic, prison IS a punishment and these
pathetic child rapists have lost their rights and rightfully so. It's
just your obviously blind, hateful political jabs that have no
purpose here that I'm disagreeing with. Throw your pro-nazi
comments around in the article about Gonzo wishing to make
thought crime a life sentence (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
part=rss&#38;subj=news&#38;tag=2547-1_3-0-5), it would be more
appropriate there.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
You're one of the brain dead that just refuses to face the fact that
not all, in fact the minority of sex offenders, committed their crime
against minors?
Posted by Gromit801 (393 comments )
Link Flag
The ignorants on this board need to
use their computers for RESEARCH!!! :|

Here: <a class="jive-link-external" href=";ie=UTF-8&#38;rlz=1T4GGLG_en___US205&#38;q=Sexual+Offender+Hysteria" target="_newWindow">;ie=UTF-8&#38;rlz=1T4GGLG_en___US205&#38;q=Sexual+Offender+Hysteria</a>

I gave you a START!!! ;)
Posted by btljooz (401 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So let them use Macs
but take away access to real computers.
Posted by Leeeroy Jenkins (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They Should get them but...
I am in no way defending the offenders however.... if they are convited of a serious offence then yeah they should not have one, or the facility can properly manage their online activity. (like that will happen)

If the offender is on a lesser sentence not convicted of rape or some other serious offence and they are in a treatment center and they want to use the PC's or Mac's for educational purposes to better themselves sure if the right tools to monitor such activity's are in place.

Again... I am not defending their rights if your in the system you have to abide by that systems rules.

But i'm sure if it was you, one would change their mind really quick, or how about we take away your right to drive forever and impound your car because you get behind the wheel after drinking, even after only 1 glass of beer or wine or one shot. Same thing...
Posted by buffer_overflow (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Read The Article
These are not prisoners. This is an involuntary mental health commitment. They are civilly committed after their sentences are complete by a designated panel. They are committed not for committing a crime, but for the belief they will committ a crime if they are released. It is virtually impossible to be released from this committment, and if you are maintaining your innocence, you will never get released. There are sexual psychopaths that society needs to be protected from, and this may be the only option. But there are others who are committed out of revenge, spite, poor representation etc.

The individuals were not arguing they had a right to PCs, they were arguing their personal property was taken without Due Process, and they anticipated having said property destroyed. These facilities are run much like prisons, which means if non-contraband personal property is seized, the state must provide a reason for said seizure, and allow for grievances to be filed.

That said, an escape triggers a lockdown, invasive searches and seizures, and a showing of force. Whether the facility used this as a means to confiscate PCs, or there was lack of communication as to the disposition of the seized PCs, it's hard to say. Getting to the truth of the matter in a state controlled environment is difficult. Getting society to look objectively at "sex offender" issues is even more difficult.
Posted by dayebreak (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Prisoners and PCs
I may be a bit hard-nosed, but let them argue all that they want. If
there is a perceived problem or a real problem, internet-connected
PCs are a portal to much more than getting a fix on freely available

There may have been a mistake in how personal property was
handled. That should be righted if wrong were in fact committed.
BUT ... objectively looking at a harmful habit is dangerous. Hence
the difficulty vis-a-vis objectivity.
Posted by tom.winans (2 comments )
Link Flag
Discretion Advised
I was 11 years old when our 45-50 something year old landlord got me alone, I was showing him a part of our club house we had put up(he was like a family friend), when he felt on my shirt where my breasts are, said you have bit *its, tried to go under and I stoped him. He then put my hand on his pants where his ***** is and kissed me. An 11 year old girls first kiss shouldn't be by a *ucker like that, but it was. I told my parents(after he told me not to) and we moved from our 8 dogs, six cats, farm house in 10 days. I was moved from a little country school to a big city school where it screwed me up so bad that I missed a year of school, nobody could get me to go. You know what he said to my parents in front of officials? with a big smug smile he said "I have money, I won't go to jail" and guess what? he didn't due to his social standing with people, and money. Now, there's sex offenders who did get caught, and they want rights? where were the peoples' individual rights when they were being abused, felt up, molested, ect. They know what they're doing, it's not an illness, not anything else but them wanting to abuse and then try to get off with a slap on the wrist. The people made their beds, now they should sleep in them, and stop whining for rights because they threw them out when they wanted to sexually offend somebody else.
Posted by erixgirl86 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A deeply emotional response
But, like it or not all citizens have rights. Criminals rights are greatly restricted while they are in jail. But after they have done their time it is time to stop punishing them. These people have been civilly commited after their sentence was over because, politicians like to win votes by finding ways to illegally extend their incarceration.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Criminally Insane
You can be both. Its rare but a fact nontheless.
Posted by ohpoppycock (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.