TOPEKA, Kan. — Some Kansas lawmakers last week expressed concern over legislation they say would make it more difficult for sex offenders who are civilly committed to treatment to appeal for their release.
The bill follows a state auditor’s report that found flaws in the sexual predator treatment program and said its costs are soaring. The measure also would remove language from Kansas law requiring the state to provide some educational and rehabilitation services for those committed to the involuntary treatment.
Offenders deemed to be sexual predators are committed to Larned State Hospital after serving their criminal penalties and are released only after completing a seven-phase treatment plan. The legislation would remove those offenders’ right to legal counsel when filing grievances and petitioning for release. And those proceedings would be moved from a court setting to a meeting with a state administrative lawyer who could decide the case by phone or video conference.
Kim Lynch, senior litigation counsel for the Department for Aging and Disability Services, which runs the program, said she hopes the changes will streamline the process in a positive way for all sides, noting that there is a backlog of cases from the program in Pawnee County court — some dating back to 2009.
The program, which currently treats 258 offenders, has a low rate of discharge. Only three people have been released since 1994, while 27 have died in the program.
The auditor’s report released Tuesday said the program’s growing population could double its costs to between $26 million and $34 million by 2025.
Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the audit “brings something to the discussion” over the bill, which has already passed the Senate.
“I didn’t particularly like it [the bill], because it didn’t give the ability for that poor person to have an independent counsel,” Barker said.
During a hearing on the proposal in a House panel in March, Democratic state Rep. Jim Ward from Wichita said it would be “rigging the game,” ensuring sex offenders committed to the program could never get out.
Barker said the Legislature may choose to delay action on the bill until next year, as it watches for a judgment in a federal class-action lawsuit against a similar program in Minnesota that could affect Kansas if it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democratic Rep. John Carmichael, also from Wichita, said he believes that Kansas’ program may already be on uneasy constitutional footing because it continues to confine offenders after their criminal penalties have been served. He said removing more of their legal rights could lead a federal court to order their immediate release.
Jennifer Rapp, a spokeswoman for the Kansas attorney general’s office, said the attorney general’s views on the need for the legislation have not changed.
“Our hope is that a compromise can be reached and legislation enacted still this year,” she said.
Asked about the bill, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback told The Associated Press, “A lot of people have concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the program.” But he added that he needs time to review the audit before making a clearer statement on the move.