Topeka Facing perhaps the worst budget crisis in state history, some lawmakers are balking at the prospect of spending tens of millions of dollars to expand the controversial Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
The program treats convicted sex offenders who have finished their prison sentences, but are kept confined through a civil commitment because of an assessment that they would be a continuing threat to the community.
But the program’s costs continue to increase, and some have questioned its effectiveness.
There are currently 189 people in the program, which is housed at Larned State Hospital. The capacity at Larned for the program is 214, and that is expected to be surpassed in 2012.
Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has proposed a 90-bed expansion at Larned that will cost $2.5 million to plan and approximately $40 million to construct.
This comes at a time when Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Legislature have slashed spending several times across all areas of state government, including education, health, social services and public safety.
At a recent meeting of the House-Senate Building Construction Committee, several members were taken aback at the price tag of the sexual predator program expansion.
Noting cuts that have been made at mental health community centers, Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, said, “My concern is that we’re concerned about sex predators, but maybe we are not worried about mental health services at other institutions. I don’t support the SRS plan to build new facilities at Larned.”
Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, also voiced opposition to the plan.
Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said some kind of balance must be struck between budget pressures and maintaining a treatment program that can withstand court challenges.
“I share the concerns about the $40 million,” he said.
The law that set up the sexual predator treatment program was prompted by the 1993 rape and murder of a Pittsburg State University student by a sex offender who had been released from prison seven months earlier. It was challenged up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the program on a 5-4 vote. Those who have challenged the law say it is unconstitutional to hold someone after he or she has finished a prison sentence.