Archive for Sunday, January 5, 2003

Despite lower crime rates, topic remains significant

January 5, 2003


— Serious crime has declined in Kansas in the past decade, but the incoming governor and attorney general both are working on get-tough proposals.

Harsher sentencing for sex offenders was a campaign issue for both Kathleen Sebelius, the Democratic governor-elect, and Phill Kline, the Republican attorney general-elect. Kline also wants to go after sex offenders who use the Internet to entice children.

Some legislators, meanwhile, hope to re-examine the state's sentencing guidelines after their session convenes and Sebelius and Kline take office Jan. 13.

Kline said fighting crime was always appropriate for state officials, regardless of statistics.

"I see it as one of the highest priorities of government," he said during a recent interview.

For whatever reason -- revised sentencing laws or, as some contend, an aging population -- many kinds of crimes are down in Kansas.

According to the FBI, Kansas had 10,909 murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in 2001, compared to 12,888 in 1992. There were 105,537 property crimes (burglaries, thefts and motor vehicle thefts) in 2001, down from 121,334 in 1992.

In 1982, Kansas recorded about 8,100 violent crimes and 115,000 property crimes.

Kline attributed the past decade's declines to tougher sentencing laws but added, "We've not gotten as tough on crime as other states have."

Sebelius said the state still faced serious criminal justice issues.

"Are we keeping the most dangerous people behind bars? Are we locking up too many people who are essentially not as dangerous who could be paying taxes in a community?" she said. "I think that kind of evaluation needs to be done on an ongoing basis."

During the 2002 campaign, Sebelius was criticized by Republican nominee Tim Shallenburger for not voting as a legislator in 1994 for the state's sexual predator act. The law provides for the indefinite confinement and treatment of a sexual offender beyond his or her prison sentence if a jury determines the person is a "predator."

Sebelius proposed doubling the sentences for sex offenders. She called the predator law "strange."

"It takes people who are identified as particularly dangerous -- and probably not very curable by everything we know in the psychological world -- and gives them, arguably, what amounts to a fairly short prison time and a very uncertain, elongated time that requires a transfer into a different system," she said.

Incoming House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said some legislators want to examine juvenile justice programs, while others want to eliminate quirks in criminal sentencing guidelines.

Mays noted, for example, that a person convicted of misdemeanor assault faces up to a month in jail, while the presumed sentence for felony aggravated assault is probation.

"There are some anomalies they want to look at," Mays said. "We're just trying to determine if the guidelines are making sense."

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