TOPEKA — A proposal by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to spend more than $40 million to expand the state's Sexual Predator Treatment Program has gotten a lukewarm response from lawmakers who are dealing with a budget crisis.
SRS officials have proposed a 90-bed expansion at Larned State Hospital, where there are currently 189 offenders in the program. The capacity for the program at Larned is 214, and experts expect that to be surpassed in 2012.
Under state law, sexual predators who are serving prison time can be kept indefinitely after their sentences end if they are considered a threat to re-offend. It was prompted by the 1993 rape and murder of a Pittsburg State University student by a sex offender who had been released from prison seven months earlier.
As the program's costs rise, lawmakers are wondering whether that money could be better spent elsewhere.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"My concern is that we're concerned about sex predators, but maybe we are not worried about mental health services at other institutions," said Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett. "I don't support the SRS plan to build new facilities at Larned."
The request comes at a time when Gov. Mark Parkinson and state lawmakers have slashed spending in all areas of state government, including education, health and public safety.
Several legislators were taken aback by the price tag for the expansion during a recent meeting of the House-Senate Building Construction Committee. Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said some kind of balance needs to be struck between budget issues and maintaining a treatment program that can withstand court challenges.
"I share the concerns about the $40 million," he said.
The SRS proposal would spend $2.5 million to plan the expansion and $40 million to build it.
The state's predator treatment program has been challenged up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld its legality on a 5-4 vote. Opponents say it is unconstitutional to hold someone after he or she has completed a prison sentence.