Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is trying to expand a program for violent sexual predators at Osawatomie State Hospital, but her plan is facing strong resistance from local legislators and residents.
Critics suggest her administration has kept information hidden from local officials so that the expansion can occur quietly, and they question its legality. They’re backing a bill to block the expansion and prevent SRS from concentrating predators in other counties, as well.
A Sebelius spokeswoman said Thursday that the expansion is necessary to protect public safety. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services contends blocking the plan could jeopardize the state’s efforts to confine some predators indefinitely for treatment of their mental problems.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee plans to have a hearing today on the issue. Sen. Pat Apple, a Louisburg Republican whose district includes the hospital, presented petitions this week to Sebelius and SRS protesting the plan, signed by more than 800 local residents.
Eight predators live at the Osawatomie hospital under the program, which is designed to prepare them for their release from state custody. Sebelius’ plan would permit the hospital to house 12 predators, and Apple said he worries the number would keep growing if she’s successful.
“They have made the decision, ‘Just put your head down; don’t say anything, and just keep moving forward on this,”’ Apple said.
SRS spokeswoman Michelle Ponce said the department is pursuing an expansion at Osawatomie because, following a 2006 law, it has no other place to house sexual predators who are preparing for an eventual release. The predators come to Osawatomie from Larned State Hospital, where the state keeps predators who have not progressed as far in treatment.
“Given the very specific constraints on where these offenders can be held, this recommendation protects public safety and uses taxpayer dollars most efficiently,” said Sebelius spokeswoman Beth Martino.
The dispute has its roots in how the state deals with violent sexual offenders, who include those whose victims are children. A 1994 law, later copied by other states, allows Kansas to keep sex offenders in SRS custody indefinitely if a jury concludes they are violent predators who are likely to commit more crimes and suffer from a mental abnormality.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that for such laws to be constitutional states must provide treatment and that offenders must have a clear path to release. The Osawatomie program is therefore vital, Ponce said.