Sexual predator program may be shelved

Lawmakers consider longer prison sentences instead of treatment

? Once touted as a modern criminal justice tool to treat sex predators while keeping them away from the public, the state’s civil commitment program may be on its way out in favor of simply longer prison sentences.

“I’m not saying it has failed, but I believe this is a much safer option for the public,” Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said.

There is a sense among many state leaders that sex offenders, especially pedophiles, cannot be rehabilitated, so it would endanger the public to let them out.

“There is absolutely no proof it is curable,” House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said.

The solution, according to Kline, Mays and what appears to be a majority of the Legislature is to increase prison sentences for sexual offenders.

A measure that has been approved in the Senate would provide life in prison without the possibility of release for people convicted of three sexual offenses. A bill in the House would carry a sentence of life without parole for a second sexual offense involving a child.

In 1994, Kansas became the first state in the nation to allow the indefinite confinement of violent sexual predators for treatment after they have served their prison sentences.

The law was challenged by Leroy Hendricks, who had been convicted in 1984 of one count of taking indecent liberties with a child. He received a five- to 20-year sentence.

He was then categorized a sexual predator and transferred to the Sexual Predator Treatment unit at Larned State Hospital. Hendricks argued the state couldn’t keep him confined longer than his prison sentence.

In 1997, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that the state could keep sexual predators confined after they served their prison sentences if they are still determined to be a danger to society.

Since Kansas established the program, at least 15 states passed similar laws affecting hundreds of sexual offenders.

But recently the Kansas program has been under scrutiny.

Last year, Hendricks was to be the first person to be released from the program. But attempts to move him to Lawrence and then Leavenworth were met with protest and legal action from residents.

An appeal that would allow him to live in Leavenworth under round-the-clock supervision is before the Kansas Supreme Court. Until the case is decided, Hendricks lives on the grounds of Osawatomie State Hospital.

There are currently approximately 150 people in the Kansas program. Six people have died while in the program, and there are at least eight more who cannot respond to treatment because of significant health problems, officials have said.

The costs have skyrocketed because it costs about $150 per day to house someone at the sexual-predator program, compared with about $50 per day in state prison.

Mays said there were still people in the state prison system who would be committed to the violent sexual predator program, but after the Legislature approves measures to increase prison sentences, the civil commitment procedure would be used less and less.