Topeka State officials are trying to come up with a strategy for dealing with what they call "the worst of the worst" criminal offenders - sexual predators.
A recent audit shows the number of offenders committed to the sexual predator treatment program has increased by 144 percent since 2001, and costs have increased 480 percent to approximately $7.8 million per year. The forecast is for continued exponential growth.
But lawmakers are questioning what, if anything, the state is getting from this investment.
"This is a group that may never change its perception of what is proper," state Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson, said recently of sexual predators.
In 1994, the state adopted a law that allowed the commitment by the courts of sexual offenders to the sexual predator treatment program at Larned State Hospital. This was for offenders who had already completed their prison sentence but because they were deemed a continuing danger could be placed in the program under a civil commitment process.
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The Kansas law, the first of its kind in the nation, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. From that point on, commitments increased rapidly to the 156 people in the program today.
The problem is, no one is "graduating" from the program. "The front door is open and the back door is closed," said Joe Lawhon, who issued the Legislative Post-Audit study on the program.
Because of age and physical disabilities, six people have died while in the program.
Only one had progressed to the transitional release phase: Leroy Hendricks, a 70-year-old man in a wheelchair who had spent 10 years in the program. But attempts to move him to Lawrence and then Leavenworth this year were met with howls of protest and eventual court action.
An appeal that would allow him to live in Leavenworth under round-the-clock supervision is now before the Kansas Supreme Court. Until the case is decided, Hendricks lives on the grounds of Osawatomie State Hospital.
New avenues needed
There are at least eight residents in the program who, because of significant physical or mental problems, cannot understand or respond to the treatment program, said Kansas Secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services Gary Daniels.
"We do have an interest in opening up the back door a little, but not a lot," Daniels said.
As more of the resident population deteriorates because of age and physical problems, Daniels said, the state may have to provide specialized and closely supervised community placements.
Daniels and other experts say there is little hope of rehabilitating most of these offenders, but close monitoring is key to ensuring they don't reoffend.
That caused some lawmakers to wonder why the state was even paying the increasing costs of the program.
But Daniels said the availability of treatment for those who are designated sexual predators is what keeps the program constitutional and enables the state to hold the offenders in civil commitment after they have completed their prison terms.