By Shaun Hittle
A Douglas County jury recently found that 42-year-old [name withheld] was a sexually violent predator and sent him into state custody for treatment.
[name withheld], convicted of attempted rape and burglary in 1996, will join 216 other sex offenders at the Larned State Hospital in the Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
A look at the numbers shows [name withheld] likely will spend many years in treatment before he’ll be released into society, if he ever is.
More people have actually died from natural causes while in the program than have been released since the program’s inception in 1994, according to the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Seventeen have died; three have been released.
“You don’t get out of here,” said [name withheld], a convicted sex offender confined to the program on and off since 1999.
During that time, Kansas has spent roughly $700,000, or about $60,000 per year, treating [name withheld], who was convicted of aggravated sexual battery and indecent solicitation of a child in 1997.
“It’s a very expensive warehouse,” [name withheld] said.
Enacted in 1994, the Sexual Predator Act allows an avenue for prosecutors to indefinitely hold convicted sex offenders, such as [name withheld] and [name withheld], past their prison sentences because they have been identified as a continuing threat to the community.
In [name withheld]’ case, a psychologist testified that [name withheld] made numerous statements about intentions to commit sexual assaults if he were released from prison.
The idea is to treat the offenders at Larned and then eventually send them back into the community once they no longer pose a risk.
But the program has effectively become a one-way street, with about 16 offenders per year being committed to the program since 2009 and few ever leaving.
Current growth projections estimate that the program, which is already over capacity, will grow to more than 370 residents by 2020, said Angela de Rocha, SRS spokeswoman.
In September, SRS, which operates the $13 million-a-year program, asked the Kansas Legislature for an additional $2 million for facility upgrades to accommodate the anticipated growth. Kansas is one of 20 states in the country to enact a sexually violent predator law, and the growth combined with few releases of offenders are “not unique to Kansas,” said W.L. Fitch, who teaches mental health law at the University of Maryland School of Law.
Once the law’s enacted, states are in a tough bind, Fitch said.
Either offenders keep piling up in sex offender treatment programs, or offenders are released and possibly re-offend.
“Politically, it’s a huge risk,” Fitch said. “You have some folks no one is going to take a chance on.”
Critics of involuntary commitment of sex offenders argue that such programs do the “dirty work of the criminal justice system” and are in fact designed to keep offenders locked away with little hope of treatment, Fitch said.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, however, said he sees the program geared toward long-term treatment and rehabilitation.
And treating such offenders can take a significant amount of time, said Larned State Hospital Superintendent Christopher Burke, which leads to a cautious approach.
“By the nature of their designation, they tend to have more-entrenched behaviors,” Burke said.
Kansas’ treatment program consists of seven phases, starting with orientation at Larned and ending with a formal, court-approved release and transition back to society.
Before a potential release, offenders progress to closely supervised reintegration at Osawatomie State Hospital and then along to conditional release at a residential facility in Miami County, where there are currently seven offenders from the program, Burke said.
But instead of helping contain and treat sex offending behaviors, [name withheld] said, the environment within the program has made him “100 times worse.”
“Any kind of carnal under the sun you’re exposed to here,” he said.
[name withheld] said he’s currently in phase three of the program, but he’s given up on progressing.
“I’ll either die here or die in prison,” he said.