By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — A pair of Kansas legislative committees have called for an audit of the state’s controversial Sexual Predator Treatment Program at Larned State Hospital, saying the program is crowded and ineffective.
Republicans Carolyn McGinn, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and Marc Rhoades, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed concern over the expanding population of sexual predators living at Larned. The program has grown from a mere 16 in 1998 to more than 200 in recent years, pushing the facility to near capacity.
Yet since its creation in 1994, only three offenders have successfully completed the treatment program to be released back into society, Rhoades said. The rest either fail to move through each step of the program, or refuse to participate. Convicted sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences can be civilly committed to the program if a judge deems them a continuing threat to the community, but they cannot be forced to undergo treatment. Rhoades said “it’s kind of like a hotel.”
“Those that are finally convicted and end up going to these very restricted facilities, their chances of getting out is not a very high percentage,” McGinn said.
The Kansas Sexual Predator Treatment Program is charged with rehabilitating sex offenders who have served their prison sentences but are committed by the courts because they still pose a danger to society. The hospital must accept whomever the courts commit to the program, and treatment focuses on therapy and work assignments geared at making an offender ready to re-enter society. The program is designed to be completed in about seven years, resulting in release.
Rhoades said it’s a bit fatalistic to assume offenders’ only way out is in a casket, which is why both committees are urging auditors to not only scrutinize treatment issues in Larned, but to analyze best practices from similar programs to help reshape the state’s plan.
But Angela de Rocha, communications director for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said it’s not the program’s fault; it’s the offenders’.
“There’s two groups of people out there: there’s the people who are young and who want to receive treatment and help, and then there’s everybody else who’s kind of happy with the way they are,” de Rocha said.
But despite the call for accountability and efficiency, state auditors say they can’t even consider the audit request until March. Deputy Post Auditor Justin Stowe said the Legislative Division of Post Audit has a full schedule of audits, and it will not be able to take on more until next year.
Auditors estimate it will take three staff members up to five months to research issues of effectiveness of treatment, staff and offender safety, and managing the growing program population. But it’s that last problem, the growing number of people committed to the program, which could prove most difficult.
For Rhoades, managing the program’s population means a combination of improving treatment to release offenders — though he said it’s not always a popular option — as well as being more prudent in committing individuals who have served their time.
“There needs to be some common sense, too, that they really are a sexual predator intending harm,” Rhoades said.
Last year the state spent about $12.8 million funding the treatment program at Larned, up from $7.5 million in 2005.
The Sexual Predator Treatment Program was last audited in 2005, and a motion to conduct another audit was defeated by legislators in 2008.
— Edited by John Trump at [email protected]