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Archive for Thursday, May 4, 2006

Private prisons, Jessica’s Law fail

May 4, 2006

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— The Kansas House on Wednesday refused to go along with authorizing private prisons as part of a bill to increase punishments for sex offenders.

The tougher penalties, known as "Jessica's Law," were linked to a proposal to allow private prisons in Kansas.

"They're trying to force-feed us," said Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing. "The House wants a clean vote on Jessica's Law."

The House rejected the bundled bill 74-49, which means it will go back to a House-Senate conference committee for more work. The Senate earlier had approved the Jessica's Law-private prison tandem 33-7.

House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, guaranteed that with or without private prisons, Jessica's Law will be approved before the Legislature concludes its wrap-up session, which he said could happen this weekend.

If Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, has his way, the private prison provision will stay in the tougher sex offender penalties.

"The two need to be part of the same package," Schmidt said. He noted that the sex offender bill will result in an additional 1,000 inmates over the next 10 years. "You have to have a place to put them."

But in the House, opponents said private prisons had a history of problems and would end up costing more than state-run prisons.

"It's a sham," said Rep. Ward Loyd, R-Garden City.

Ultimately, state taxpayers would be liable for any problems with a privately run prison, he said.

Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, said the profit-motive would result in mistreatment of inmates and possible prison unrest.

"They are there to make a buck. That flies in the face of public safety," he said.

But supporters of private prisons said they have overcome early problems, would be less expensive to the state and provide jobs.

The tougher penalties call for a minimum 25-year sentence for adults convicted of a violent sex crime against a child. A second sex crime, regardless of the victim's age, would produce a 40-year sentence without possibility of parole. A third sex crime conviction would bring a life sentence with no parole.

Rep. Patricia Kilpatrick, R-Overland Park, who introduced Jessica's Law - named after a 9-year-old girl killed last year in Florida by a released sex offender - choked with emotion as she urged lawmakers to adopt the bill.

"Why are we arguing about treatment of prisoners when we're not arguing about the treatment of children at the hands of these people?" Kilpatrick said.

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