Archive for Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sex predators: What goes on at Larned facility may shock some taxpayers

Is state ‘treatment’ program nothing but a pricey prison?

September 25, 2005


— If it weren't for the security guards and the barbed-wire fence, it might pass for a community-college campus.

The Sexual Predator Treatment Program at Larned State Hospital lies in the center of the state, tucked into the Kansas prairie a few miles outside Larned, accessible by a winding, rural road.

It's a quiet fact of life for people in this city of 5,000 that the hospital is home to about 130 people labeled as Kansas' most dangerous sex offenders.

"As long as you don't get no trouble :" said Wilbur Graver, 79, a retired hospital worker who was relaxing on a recent morning along the city's main drag. "You don't hear too much complaining. It probably ain't no different than anywhere else."

Few Kansans - in Larned or anywhere else - have seen fit to complain about the program since it began 11 years ago.

In theory, it's a place where the most dangerous sex offenders are sent after being released from prison. They're there to get mental health treatment until they're safe to return to society.

But in the past year, it's become clear the formula isn't that simple. More people are entering the program, costs are growing, but only one person has completed treatment.

And critics say there are still major, unanswered questions about whether the program is actually doing what it was created to do. To some, the program is essentially prison at three times the cost to taxpayers.

"There's room for improvement there, and I don't think the state has been extremely honest about what goes on," said Tim Davis, a former clinical group leader at Larned, now a professor at Fort Hays State University.

In the spotlight

Two events this year have put the program in the public eye.

First, the state caused an uproar with its plan to release Leroy Hendricks to a geriatric group home near Lawrence in rural Leavenworth County. The plan is now on hold as an appeals court considers whether the county can use zoning laws to keep Hendricks out.

Then, a study by the state found that the program's population could triple in coming decades and that, in 11 years, only one person had successfully finished the program. If the trend continues, it will cost Kansans millions more dollars in years ahead.

The program cost $6.9 million this year and is expected to cost at least $7.8 million next year. According to state numbers, it cost about $150 per day last year to house someone at the sexual-predator program, compared with about $53 per day in a Kansas prison.

Pipeline problems

The study released this spring, by the state's Division of Legislative Post Audit, found that "many residents aren't progressing through the Program's phases on a timely basis."

Davis, the former staff member, said he believes the residents aren't entirely to blame for that. He said the program has been a "political disaster" for the state and that there's pressure to not let people out.

"I think they're disingenuous in how willing they are to let people go through the program," he said. "That was really one of the things that caused me to leave. I couldn't any longer look at the residents and say, 'Work hard, and you'll get out.'"

The program's clinical director, Austin DesLauriers, said he's never been directed to not let residents work through the program. But he said staff members occasionally get feedback "that there is some real resistance to the idea of graduates of our program re-entering the community."

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, is chairwoman of the Kansas House committee that oversees funding for SRS, which operates the sexual-predator program. She said that after the state's study was released, lawmakers asked SRS for follow-up information.

"What we've asked for is 'Can we show that we're making progress with these individuals? Can we show that we have an effective program that is actually moving some individuals to the day they can be released?'" she said. "And those questions haven't been able to be answered yet."

Not punishment?

In 1994, Kansas was at the forefront of a nationwide movement to find ways to keep sex offenders locked up after their prison sentence had expired. The state's predator law was passed in response to the murder of Pittsburg State University student Stephanie Schmidt.

It allows sex offenders to be sent indefinitely to Larned if they're found to have a "mental abnormality" or "personality disorder" that made them likely to engage in repeated acts of sexual violence.

"I'll be honest: At the very first, when we made this law we didn't have any forethought of very many of these people being released at all," said Gene Schmidt, Stephanie Schmidt's father. "These are bad guys, and they're not going to want to change."

Kansas' first inmate was Hendricks, a repeat child molester whose challenge to the law went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hendricks said the law violated constitutional protection against being punished twice for the same crime.

But in 1997, the court allowed for a nationwide expansion of the laws by finding Kansas' program legal because it wasn't a form of criminal punishment.

Eventually, 15 more states passed laws similar to the Kansas program. Nearly a decade after the ruling, Kansas isn't the only state with a ballooning predator population. In New Jersey, for example, 311 people had been admitted to that state's program as of December, and none had been released.

Paul Appelbaum, a former president of the American Psychiatric Assn., said he's not aware of any systematic efforts to see how well the programs nationwide are meeting their goals. But, like Davis, he questions what Kansas is getting for the money.

"These statutes - of which Kansas' is exemplary - really are a pretense for efforts to lock up sexual offenders for an indefinite period of time," said Appelbaum, a University of Massachusetts professor. "Although they come framed as therapeutic in intent, everything about them suggests that treating these people is not the real goal."

Hospital or prison?

On the way into a visitation area at the sexual-predator program, a security guard instructs visitors to put all sharp items - screwdrivers, pocket knives, nail files - into a locker so they can't be seized by an inmate.

David Heide, a 45-year-old roofer from Lee's Summit, Mo., was convicted in 1990 of breaking into a woman's apartment in Johnson County, holding her at knifepoint, fondling her and masturbating on top of her.

During the Journal-World's visit, he was dressed all in black with a cross dangling from his neck. He said he accepted Jesus into his life April 7, 2004, while awaiting his sexual-predator determination trial.

Increase in the number of people being labeled predators.

Increase in the number of people being labeled predators.

"I believe God put me here for a reason," Heide said.

On a typical day, Heide said, he has group therapy at 8 a.m., a "cognitive skills" class at 9, a leisure wood shop at 11, lunch at noon and recreation activities the rest of the day. He has one-on-one therapy for an hour every two weeks.

Much of the treatment, he said, "isn't helpful to me."

Heide said the emphasis at the program was more on incarceration than treatment. He said clinical workers gave "free reign" to security guards who applied rules inconsistently between different shifts - for example, occasionally locking doors without a good explanation.

"They keep saying, 'Well it's a new program,'" Heide said. "You're into your 11th year now. It's not really that new."

Davis questioned whether the treatment at Larned was individualized enough. For example, he said all incoming residents started at the same phase of the program, regardless how much sex-offender treatment they've had in prison.

He also questioned why the most reliable method of predicting whether someone will reoffend - a plethysmography machine, which measures sexual arousal - isn't used during the pre-commitment evaluation.

Davis said that when he worked at Larned, there were "constant battles" between security and clinical staff that made it difficult to provide treatment. For example, there were disagreements about what rules inmates should follow or how freely they should be allowed to move around.

"My personal perception was that it wasn't terribly therapeutic," he said.

But DesLauriers, clinical director at the program, said that overall the clinical and security staffs worked well together. He said inmates were responsible for most of the tension and that some residents "spend a good deal of their time and energy trying to split the staff groups."

More flagged

A higher percentage of people sent to Larned for sexual-predator evaluations are being found by the hospital's psychologists to be predators. Once that finding is made, the person can either accept the finding or get an independent evaluation, which leads to a trial if the two evaluators don't agree.

In 2000, 39 percent of people sent to Larned for an evaluation were identified as having sexual predator tendencies. In 2001, that number was 47 percent. But the following three years - from 2002 to 2004 - the numbers jumped to 81 percent, 79 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

Some people view the increase as largely due to psychologist Rex Rosenberg, who for the past four years has been the coordinator of Larned's sexual-predator evaluations.

Rosenberg's critics say he applies the law more broadly than other evaluators and question whether, with a master's degree, he has the proper training to conduct the evaluations.

A fundamentalist Christian, Rosenberg also has been criticized for a controversial Web site he posted in the mid-1990s, which accused "those who scream tolerance and multiculturalism and diversity" of censoring his personal research project.

That controversial research project was a survey designed to diagnose whether someone is influenced by demons.

From prison to mental health ward:

This is the process for deciding which people should be labeled "sexually violent predators."

¢ As sex offenders come close to finishing their prison sentences, the Kansas Department of Corrections evaluates each and considers which ones are at high risk of re-offending. It then sends a "notice of pending release" to Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's office.

¢ Kline's staff reviews the cases and decides which ones to pursue as possible sexual predators. Whitney Watson, a Kline spokesman, said a team of four attorneys is assigned to review sexual-predator cases. They consider factors, including the nature of the crime and the person's conduct in prison.

¢ On average, about 12 percent of the sex offenders released from prison each year are flagged by Kline's office, which then files a petition in the person's home county.

¢ Once the petition is filed, a judge considers whether there's probable cause to believe the person is a predator. If the judge finds probable cause - something that happens in about 95 percent of cases - the person then goes to Larned for an evaluation.

¢ If the evaluation determines the person is a predator, he or she can either agree to the findings or get an independent evaluation. If the two evaluators disagree, the case goes to trial. Evaluator Rex Rosenberg estimated that in the cases he's done, 80 percent of people have agreed to the findings of his evaluation. He said he's been involved with roughly 30 trials and, as far as he can recall, only one has ended with a finding that the person is not a sexual predator.


OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 8 months ago

Society wants these people locked away, forever. What we tell the lawmakers is that we never want to see them on our streets again. But, the courts know that that perspective is not justice, that once time is served, a criminal should be released. This is a social MESS that our grandchildren will still be arguing about long after we are all dead and gone.

Ragingbear 12 years, 8 months ago

Here's a way to deal with the extremely violent sexual predators... LETHAL INJECTION. Most of the victims of these people are either dead, or so messed up in the head by the trauma they endured that they should never be allowed to see the light of day. But some ultra-liberal whack nuts believe that everyone needs a second, a third, a fourth and a tenth chance.

People like this, at minimum, should remain behind bars and away from society so that our children, and our families can remain safe.

canyon_wren 12 years, 8 months ago

What a terrible waste of taxpayers' money! It doesn't sound like the program is the least bit useful.

Also, what's the point of the photo gallery? That's a waste, too, just showing the same several people's photos over and over again. Somebody's idea of "newsworthy" photo coverage is certainly exaggerated!

bill_priff 12 years, 8 months ago

Here is an archive of Rosenberg's website. (

Eric, I think you buried the lede. The real problem with this program is the fact that this guy is now in charge of who gets put into it, and that the percentages have gone up so dramatically.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 12 years, 8 months ago

I guess the J-W is having a drop in circulation. With all the real news these days, the Bush and Cheney's oil companies gouging the public with inflated gasoline prices, the awful situations that have been created by the two hurricanes and the tremendous need that the Red Cross is having to deal with. And of course there is the war where young Americans are fighting and dying in a foolish war that has become Vietnam II, thanks to the dunderheads that Americans vote in because they think they have some ties to good old time religion, and of course, the damned fool at the state board of education who is nothing more than another religious zealot attempting to establish a state religion in clear violation of the U.S. Constituion. Can't you find any other topics in this list above to splash across the front page? Are Dolph's green fees and gasoline costs really getting out of hand again?????????

Sigmund 12 years, 8 months ago

Psychology has replaced religion as the arbiter of "good" and "evil". Personally I'd rather have churches in that role. At least the local pastor can't use the power of the State to keep you in prison for a lifetime unless he is also a psychologist.

The Kansas law should have been found unconstitutional on the basis that it is too vague and amounts to a sentence of life in prison for crimes that otherwise would carry a much shorter sentence. From the article; "These statutes - of which Kansas' is exemplary - really are a pretense for efforts to lock up sexual offenders for an indefinite period of time," said Appelbaum, a University of Massachusetts professor. "Although they come framed as therapeutic in intent, everything about them suggests that treating these people is not the real goal." Or even possible I might add.

As far as I can determine, the psychological community's stance on the sexual predator is "once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator" and "I can't precisely define it, but I know it when I see it." Finally, psychology can't really predict the future behavior of a particular individual and the courts and the law require them to do just that; make a determination that the individual is not likely to re-offend.

If I were a psychologist I'd never let anyone out. I wouldn't want the community to see what a failure and a fraud modern psychology has become every time one of these "patients" re-offend, despite all the time and money taxpayers spend on the "treatment." Psychology, cloaked in the vestments of "science", has become society's new religion, replacing "psychosis" for demon possession and drugs are the holy sacraments. The Salem witch hunt is replaced with a wave of daycare providers convicted of sexual child abuse with no more than an accusation of an adult and a psychologist leading interview of the child that plants false memories in the "victim".

At the end of the day only the individual can change their own behavior. 12 step programs that require belief in a "higher power" have as good, if not better, success rate in the treatment of drug/alcohol abuse, than expensive psychological treatments. Religion, for all its faults, has a better chance of making the inner change necessary to impact the future behaviors of the "saved" than psychology has of providing a "cure."

Horace 12 years, 8 months ago

Why are we trying to treat these people? Put them on some work farm in the middle of Kansas, GPS them, and let them live in some sort of dormitory housing. Minimum security, but if they try to escape, they're shot.

They're not going to be cured, but ordinarily they're not agressive. It shouldn't be so expensive to confine them.

jayhawktownie 12 years, 8 months ago

OldEnuf has it right in that the public does not want to see these people reenter society. Why not simply up the maximum sentences for sex crimes, therefore giving judges and juries greater ability to put these whackos away for life at the time of trial. It seems to me that more often than not, you can tell if the guy is a nut-job or not based on the crime. If he is, they should be able to make that call and put him away for life. I know that i personally would not vote against anybody favoring longer sentences for sex offenders.

glockenspiel 12 years, 8 months ago

With all the real news these days, the Bush and Cheney's oil companies gouging the public with inflated gasoline prices

Amazing, some one managed to find a way to bash bush in this article. F*&#$%G incredible....

r3325 12 years, 6 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

r3325 12 years, 6 months ago

why was my comment removed by the site staff there was no foul language

r3325 12 years, 6 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

usa 12 years, 6 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

bangaranggerg 12 years, 1 month ago

all this hoo- ha about sexual preditors, no one wants to write about all the sexual prey.

satchel 12 years, 1 month ago

Yes, it is all Bush's fault.. You know these sexual predators do it because Bush failed some how. Yes, Bush controls the environment, disease and the hearts of evil terrorists. The ljworld has failed to connect Bush to this.. How could they!!

All joking aside, I would be happy having them take my hard earned money to put these predators on an island far away where they can't get off of it. We can fly in food, but that is it.. Maybe they can rape each other instead of our children!! Once a child rapist, ALWAYS one. THere is no cure. Send them away, or give them the death penalty!

r3325 11 years, 11 months ago

tell the truth about predators that you keep hammering on or you to afraid of the liberals will go after you

cdbot 10 years ago

You do your crime, you do your time, we don't like the sentence, legislation changes them. Now this treatment so called is just a way to circumvent our rights, and not just for the sex offenders. But it is a great platform for them (politicians) to get us to agree, since these people are the worst of crimminals, heck you would get more respect killing someone than sexually offending them. just remember, when other laws come out that circumvent other rights that we hold dear, we started the ball, so let's make sure we don't jump on a wagon that may later run us over.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.