Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kansas' Offender List Ever-Growing

Violent offender registry

Kansas launched a sex offender registry in 1993, and the list has since grown to include more than 250 offenders who are required to register because they committed crimes of violence. These are the most common crimes on the state's violent offender registry.

Involuntary manslaughter85
Voluntary manslaughter39
Aggravated assault25
Attempted second degree murder14
Aggravated battery13
Attempted voluntary manslaughter10
Second degree murder8
Unlawful sale of a controlled substance7
Attempted kidnapping7
Aggravated kidnapping5
Solicitation to commit murder5

Perform offender searches

To look up the Kansas Registered Offender registry on the Internet, go to

To look up the Kansas Department of Corrections records, go to

What began as a small registry for a select group of Kansas sex offenders has mushroomed into a statewide criminal clearinghouse that could tell you whether there's a convicted murderer living down the street.

Today, the list includes 4,500 names -- 250 of which belong to criminals who have been convicted of such violent crimes as murder, manslaughter and aggravated kidnapping.

Criminal justice experts say the ever-expanding registry brings into public view what police and prosecutors have known for years: that Wichita is home to hundreds of criminals who have been released into society on probation or parole.

But maintaining an ever-expanding registry may have a downside, some contend.

Brian Withrow, a criminologist at Wichita State University, said it doesn't make sense to put all ex-cons on the registry.

"I'm not suggesting who should or shouldn't be on the list," he said. "But at some point you have to stop and ask yourself the question, 'How long do we follow these people?' "

And Deputy Sedgwick County District Attorney Kim Parker said residents who have no registered offenders in their neighborhoods should not be lulled into thinking they don't have to take precautions against crime.

"You could be concentrating on a person who's registered and be murdered by the guy down the street who's not," she said.

The Kansas Legislature passed the registry law after concluding that even if the state can't prevent sex offenders from living in certain neighborhoods, it can at least arm residents with information about where they live.

Once aware that an offender lives nearby, proponents reasoned, residents can take steps to protect themselves and their children from them.

The registry

Wichita's 700 registered offenders include 484 who have committed sex crimes against children, 150 who have committed sex crimes against adults and 54 who were convicted of violent crimes such as kidnapping, murder or manslaughter.

KBI Special Agent David Hutchings, who oversees the state's registry, said the registry last week had 4,483 "open offenders," whose names are considered to be public records and are posted on the Internet. A smaller list of 1,377 "restricted offenders" is available only to law enforcement agencies.

State courts have ruled that those whose crimes occurred before the registry law took effect on April 14, 1994, cannot be placed on the public list.

Drug offenders started appearing on the registry after the 2007 Kansas Legislature decided that those who engage in dangerous drug crimes, such as the manufacture of meth, also pose a danger to society, Hutchings said.

There were seven drug offenders on the public registry as of last week, he said.

Registry history

Kansas' sex offender registry law took effect July 1, 1993, and was originally designed to offer a nonpublic list of names that police could use to develop suspects during sex crime investigations.

The parents of Pittsburg State University student Stephanie Schmidt, who was killed that year by a paroled rapist, asked the Legislature the following year to make the list public.

The Legislature agreed. In April 1994, county offender lists were made available for the first time to anyone willing to drive to local sheriff's offices.

After Congress passed Megan's Law in 1996, all states were required to maintain offender lists. On April 25, 1997, the KBI posted a statewide list of 300 offenders on the Internet for the first time. The group consisted primarily of people convicted of rape, indecent liberties, indecent solicitation and sexual exploitation of a child.

Although the Kansas registry initially applied only to sex crimes, the Legislature in 1996 began requiring people convicted of such violent offenses as murder, manslaughter and kidnapping to register as well.

Under the law, most first-time offenders are required to stay on the registry for 10 years. Second-time offenders, and offenders convicted of certain aggravated crimes, stay on the list for life.

The growing list

Although there are 700 registered offenders in Wichita, that doesn't mean there aren't even more ex-convicts living in the city.

As of last week, there were more than 1,200 offenders living in Sedgwick County who were under the supervision of probation or parole officers, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records.

Many of those people committed crimes that do not require registration or whose crimes were committed before the registry law took effect.

Criminal justice officials said there was no way to know how many ex-cons live in the Wichita area who are not required to be on the registry and have completed their parole or probation.

With the list of registered offenders continuing to grow, Withrow, the WSU criminologist, said he wonders whether the state is going overboard in its efforts to keep track of ex-convicts.

"Obviously the pro of this is that it's always a good idea to know if there are violent offenders or sex offenders in your community," he said. "The con is when can you say this person has paid off his debt to society?"

One drawback to a large offender registry is the amount of time and money it takes to maintain the list and enforce the registry requirements, Withrow said.

He said ex-cons trying to reintegrate into society often have a hard time finding work or housing when their names and faces are posted on the Internet offender registry.

"We do a really good job of shaming people and getting them out of society," he said. "We do a really bad job of getting people back in."

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