State predicts high demand for program

? They are arriving much faster than they are leaving, so the state’s sexual predator treatment program should brace for major expansion in coming years, according to a report released Monday.

The 136 offenders currently involved with the program will balloon to 200 in five years and could reach nearly 850 in the next three decades. The growth in numbers is driven by an increase in enrolled participants. Meanwhile, few of the predators are completing treatment and exiting the system.

“The front door’s open, and the back door’s closed,” said Joe Lawhon, who wrote the report for the Legislative Division of Post-Audit.

The program, started in 1994, is housed at Larned State Hospital and allows the state to require treatment of high-risk sexual offenders even after they’re done serving their prison sentences.

The program has gained attention in recent weeks in Lawrence because officials plan to move one of its participants, Leroy Hendricks, to a supervised group home in Lawrence after he completes treatment. A spokesman for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has said Hendricks could be in Lawrence within two weeks.

Since 1998, the number of people in the treatment program has increased from 16 to 136. Offenders referred to the program peaked at 32 in 2003; the current rate is two to three referrals per month.

Meanwhile, only one person has been discharged from the program after completing it successfully. Six have died while in the program, 11 were discharged because of a legal ruling and two are in conditional release under court supervision.

The expansion has resulted in skyrocketing costs during the program’s existence. Costs have increased from $1.2 million in 2001 to $6.9 million this year. The program expansion will require the addition of 28 to 40 staff positions next year at a cost of $840,000 to $1.2 million.

Several remodeling projects also are under way, with one to be completed in November 2006 that will increase program capacity to 212.

When compared with the other six states with sexual predator programs, Kansas’ cost per offender in the program ranks last at $41,267 per year. It also appears to be the most stringent among those states, with a zero tolerance for the possibility of new offenses after the program completion.

Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, said the costs were enough to consider whether harsher prison sentences for sexual predators would be better than continuing the treatment program.

“The public clearly does not want people with these types of infirmities out walking around,” Edmonds said. “The public expects us to make them safe from these people.”

Part of the question, Edmonds said, centers around whether sexual offenders actually can be cured. Laura Howard, assistant SRS secretary, said in some cases the focus was on offenders controlling their behaviors, not being “cured.”

“There’s no simple answer to that,” she said. “It’s not very clear-cut.”