Sometimes when politicians speak, you don’t know whether to be calmed or alarmed by what they say.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt intended to highlight the careful work of his office. His letter was included in an audit released this week of the state’s Sexual Predator Treatment Program. By 2025, costs could more than double to as much as $34 million, the audit warned.
Schmidt’s letter addressed how people are civilly committed to the program. His office scrutinizes about 270 people being released each year from prison who “appear to meet the criteria of a sexually violent predator,” the letter said. Yet on average, only 13 are placed into the program. This is hardly comforting.
Schmidt’s point was frugality. He’s emphasizing the state being cautious about using its power to involuntarily commit more people and ratchet up costs. Remember, these are people who have fulfilled their prison sentences.
But he’s also admitting that it sets more than 250 of these troubled souls back into society every year despite thinking that they could be a danger. It’s a tough situation for Kansas and many other states to grapple with, predicting who poses enough of a risk as a violent sexual predator that they can be legally involuntarily confined.
The audit was initiated by worries about escalating costs. The program, primarily at Larned State Hospital, has about 250 people currently committed. This is one small program within Kansas corrections, and officials say they have already made many of the changes the audit recommended.
But it’s a powerful issue for voters. It puts state officials in an awful situation of playing a bit of Russian roulette to decide who is the least likely to recommit a sexual assault. That drama is increased because no one wants to further strain a budget that is already expected to be $400 million short in the coming fiscal year. It’s a shortfall that doesn’t have to exist because it’s largely due to the tax cuts pushed by the governor and approved by the Legislature.
As the state’s top law official, Schmidt is focused on the goal of having no new victims. Right now, that standard is largely achieved by basically never letting anyone out. Participants usually are on the taxpayer’s dime for life. Easing standards would cut costs but might mean someone who is released could begin trolling for the next victim.
Tough decisions. Ones that don’t need the added weight of the state’s tax woes.