Sexual predator task force holds first meeting

Recommendations due June 1

0 | Agencies, Hospitals, Mental Health

— A task force charged with coming up with a plan for reforming the state’s Sexual Predator Treatment Program held its first meeting today with members promising to examine the program’s past and present policies in hopes of finding ways to move people through the program without jeopardizing public safety.

“This isn’t going to be about pointing fingers at what has or hasn’t happened in the past,” said Wes Cole, the group’s chair. “We’re going to look at what we have going on now and how we can make it better.”

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KHI News Service

Wes Cole, center, is chair of the task force reviewing the state's sexual predator treatment program. To his right is Charles Barnett, a task force member and project director at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

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The task force’s recommendations are due June 1 to the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the treatment program, located at Larned State Hospital.

Cole, who also chairs the Governor’s Mental Health Planning Council, said the task force's report would be seriously considered by KDADS Secretary Shawn Sullivan.

“I don’t want this to end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere like has happened so many times in the past,” Cole said. “I’ve been told the secretary won’t let that happen.”

Created in 1994, the Sexual Predator Treatment Program was designed to block the release of people who had committed sex crimes but completed their prison sentences. Those in the program are committed to Larned State by court order, similar to the way other mentally ill persons are committed when considered a potential threat to themselves or others.

Few win release

Though the program is supposed to be rehabilitative, few patients have improved enough to win release.

According to state reports, more than 250 patients have entered the program in the last 18 years. Only four have been released; at least 16 have died while being held for treatment.

Lawmakers last year agreed to add 30 beds to the treatment program’s 177-bed unit at Larned State.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed spending $17 million on the program in fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, and $20 million in fiscal 2015.

“It’s becoming a burdensome program,” Cole said.

Task force members agreed to spend much of the next month reading previous reviews of the program’s shortcomings. Other topics for future discussion:

• Finding ways to prevent young people from becoming sex offenders.

“A lot of parents don’t know what to do,” said Jane Adams, executive director with Keys for Networking, a program that works with at-risk families. “All they know is that if they tell someone what they think is going on, they’ll probably get their kids taken away. We need to be helping them. We need to be getting to them early.”

• Other states’ approaches to treating sexual predators.

• Expanding the task force’s membership to include one or more representatives from the state’s correctional and judicial systems.

• Reviewing the legal processes leading to someone’s commitment to the treatment program.

“I know of an individual who stipulated to being in the program for 18 months to five years,” said Rick Cagan, executive director with National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas. “The reality now is that he’ll be there a lot longer.”

'First-hand experience

Cagan asked the group to ask someone with first-hand experience of the program to join the task force.

“I doubt that we could find a former resident of the program,” he said. “I’m thinking more along the lines of a family member.”

Cagan also suggested adding Tim Davis, an assistant professor at Fort Hays State University and a former clinical team leader at the Sexual Predator Treatment Program.

Austin Deslauriers, the treatment program’s clinical director, resisted Cagan’s proposals, arguing that a former employee or a family member would be biased in their perspectives.

Deslauriers said he that while he and his staff “were always interested in making the program better,” it was also true that about one-third of the 217 program’s residents -- all men -- lacked motivation.

Cagan disputed Deslauriers’ assessment, arguing that many of the residents would show more interest in the program’s therapies if the benefits were more apparent.

The task force’s next meeting is set for Feb. 25, after which the group is scheduled to meet on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.



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