New Century Kansas prison officials aggressively hunt offenders who don't report to their parole officers, the state's top prison official told lawmakers Tuesday.
But Sen. David Adkins, a Leawood Republican and chairman of a House-Senate committee on corrections issues, said Tuesday that parole violators probably should be treated just like inmates who escape from prison.
"We may want to authorize a bill to enhance the criminal penalties," Adkins said.
Instead of facing a maximum of six months in prison for violating parole, offenders should be sentenced to two or three years in prison, the same as a prison escapee, Adkins said.
The issue of how the state treats offenders who are delinquent in reporting to parole staff has risen in public attention after high-profile crimes allegedly committed by absconders, including one in Lawrence.
Damien C. Lewis has been charged with capital murder in connection with the July 10 slayings of Wyona Chandlee and Pete Wallace, both 71, in their eastern Lawrence home. Authorities said Lewis was to have reported to a parole officer in late April in Hutchinson but failed to show up, instead taking up residences in Lawrence. He had been serving a 56-month sentence for aggravated assault, burglary and criminal possession of a firearm.
Secretary of Corrections Charles Simmons said proper procedure was followed in the Lewis case. An arrest warrant was issued just days after Lewis, now awaiting trial for capital murder, failed to meet his parole officer.
State policy requires that if an offender cannot be located within 10 working days of the missed appointment, an arrest warrant is issued and the warrant is entered into the National Crime Information Center database so law enforcement agencies can be on the lookout for the offender.
In addition, Simmons said, the state has 11 Special Enforcement Officers whose main job is finding and arresting parole violators.
Simmons said the state had a "pretty aggressive policy" in trying to catch absconders. Currently, there are about 430 active arrest warrants for absconders from state supervision, including 38 in Douglas County.
In the last fiscal year, 1,788 new absconder warrants were issued by the Kansas Department of Corrections; one-half of those were cleared within one month and two-thirds within two months, Simmons said.
But he said it was impossible to keep track of all parolees all the time. He said the state would need 20,000 parole officers to keep tabs on the more than 4,000 offenders under supervision. He now has about 100 parole officers, he said.
In response to a request from the Journal-World, the corrections department in July made public for the first time a list of all parole violators in the state. The department later modified its Web site to allow users to find out if a warrant has been issued for a former inmate's arrest.
The Web site www.dc.state.ks.us also includes photographs of most inmates. Readers who know the whereabouts of someone on the list are encouraged to call 911; Douglas County Crime Stoppers, 843-8477; or the Department of Corrections (785) 296-3317. Callers may remain anonymous.