- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

LARNED, Kan. (AP) - Carlos Lively says he may be confined by the state of Kansas for the rest of his life, even though he completed a prison sentence for a sex offense nine years ago.

The 30-year-old is one of 258 patients committed indefinitely to an expanding treatment program that the state says keeps the public safe from violent sexual predators who would otherwise go free after serving jail time.

Only three patients have been released from the program since its inception in 1994, while 27 have died. A state audit report released in April found its costs were soaring as 10 to 15 patients per year are added, increasing concern that some offenders who could be safely released are being held because of flaws in the treatment regimen.

Lively was sentenced to 19 months in jail in 2004, for exposing himself to two younger family members when he was 18, according to court records. Rather than be released on probation, he was committed in 2005 to the sexual predator treatment program at Larned State Hospital, a complex on the prairie about 100 miles west of Wichita.

Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Department for Aging and Disability Services, which runs the program, said that few residents have been released from the program because they have all been convicted of multiple offenses and have been determined by a court to have severe mental abnormalities.

But Tapatha Strickler, who worked as a psychologist for the program from 2012 to 2014, said that “only a handful” of the 90 patients were dangerous and most could be discharged after proper treatment. Strickler said she resigned from the hospital because she felt the program was unethical and now works as a private-practice psychologist.

Lively and his parents, Eugene and Arlene Lively, said he was sexually abused when he was 8 years old and later spent time in juvenile lockup for sexually abusing a younger relative when he was 14. The Associated Press could not confirm this because juvenile records are sealed.

“To the state, I am still the person I was when I was 14, and probably always will be,” said Carlos Lively, who was one of three residents who spoke with The Associated Press during an April visit.

Kansas City, Kansas-based attorney Fred Zimmerman represented Lively in his 2005 civil commitment and said his offenses were “not anything heinous.” Zimmerman said he arranged an expert to testify that Lively was a low risk to re-offend.

But he said such cases face an uphill fight, because juries and judges are presented with details of the offenders’ crimes and state psychological evaluations that argue the opposite.

Zimmerman said he quit working such cases after five years, mainly out of frustration with the extremely low success rate in getting clients to avoid commitment or to be released.

“At some point I told a prosecutor, ‘You’d be doing them a better service if you just told them that they are getting a life sentence rather than let them dangle there hoping,’” Zimmerman said.

The standard for release from the program is “virtually no risk” of reoffending, Secretary of Aging and Disability Services Kim Bruffet said at a hearing on the state audit report in April. None of the three offenders released from Kansas’ program have reoffended, de Rocha said.

After nine years at Larned State Hospital, Lively is in phase two of the seven-phase program. The early phases of the program involve classwork and therapy sessions. Residents are later taken on field trips to monitor their emotional reactions and behaviors in public settings in phase five. They are then moved to transitional housing, and conditionally released for a five-year probationary period in phases six and seven.

Few progress that far. The state audit report found that more than 70 percent of the program’s residents are in phases two and three, while just 22 were found to be in phase five or beyond. Due to its rising population, the report said that its costs could double by 2025 and its population could swell to 500.

Lively said he began the program with enthusiasm but lost hope and boycotted treatment for 18 months. He said he is now participating again, but describes the program as a “vicious cycle.”

De Rocha said the hospital is not allowed to discuss individual residents or their cases, but Larned Superintendent Tom Kinlen estimated that 30 to 40 percent of residents have quit participating.

Many residents progress slowly because some required classes are only offered once a year, Strickler said. Many are also forced to repeat phases if they are uncooperative with staff or fail routine polygraph tests used to monitor inappropriate behavior and thoughts, she said.

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