A group of stakeholders in Leavenworth and Atchison counties say they would like both communities to do better when it comes to rehabilitating sexual offenders.
It's in response to figures like those mentioned by Vicky Kaaz, an employee at Leavenworth's Guidance Center and the chairwoman of the First Judicial District Coalition on Sexual Offending, which hosted a meeting with area elected officials, law enforcement, social service providers and other stakeholders Wednesday during which members said they are hoping to breathe new life into efforts to combat sexual abuse.
One in six people, statistically speaking, will be affected by sexual abuse at some point in their lives, Kaaz said. And Leavenworth County has a higher rate of sexual offenders than other Kansas counties, compared to the overall population, she added.
“Nobody likes to talk about it, but it's something we have to talk about if we want to see any meaningful change in our community,” she said.
Facilities like the Guidance Center currently have few ways to help offenders, once in the system, get treatment and avoid recidivism, said Keith Rickard, executive director of the Guidance Center.
That has not always been the case, he said ― as of about 10 years ago the center, which serves Jefferson as well as Leavenworth and Atchison counties, had some kind of sex offender treatment program.
“Across the state of Kansas, mental health centers were typically involved with this kind of work,” he said. “Because of shrinking revenues, increased legal liabilities and systemic changes in the court systems sending more and more people to prison, we got out of that.”
Since the Guidance Center's reductions to those programs, it has become sometimes difficult for sexual offenders to get evaluations and subsequent treatment, partially because of the location of such programs and partially because of cost. Of the nine sexual offenders currently in the Leavenworth County Community Corrections system, Intensive Supervision Officer Jessica Forbes, a member of the coalition, said only two were employed.
“If an offender is discharged for being indigent and unable to pay, we have to consider another treatment provider option or we have to consider filing a motion to revoke,” she said, even for willing participants in the treatment. “So we're revoking probation for people who are actively engaged in treatment but unable to afford it. And that's a problem.”
Also in the time since those community services ended, the landscape of sexual offending has changed somewhat, said Tom Weishaar, chief court services officer for the First Judicial District. He said the coalition's ideas now were aimed less at what he called “hardened” repeat offenders in prison for long sentences, but the increasing number of juveniles entering the correctional system for things like “sexting,” the transfer of explicit images via text message.
Page 2 of 2 - “We're looking for the ones we can possibly save,” he said.
Kaaz admitted that getting the assessment and treatment program restarted at the Guidance Center could be expensive initially, though First Judicial District Court Appointed Special Advocates Director Kelly Meyer said through costs for foster care and incarceration, the community might already be footing that bill.
Kaaz also said that treatment is not the only way the coalition aims to fight sexual abuse.
“Right now, it's expensive, because we are putting the fires out,” she said. “We're reacting. We're not preventing. So one of the things this coalition is all about is working on the prevention.”
That means educating both the parents and school staff, as well as the public, as to what to look for and how to talk to teens about the serious consequences that behavior like sexting can have.
Kaaz said the coalition is looking at federal grants to get the evaluation and treatment program restarted at the Guidance Center. But, with a broad-based mission and vision statement, Rickard said it was important to get the input and ideas from everyone sitting around the table Wednesday.
“We're trying the best we can to rebuild this,” he said. “Obviously, we can't do it alone.”