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Kansas Contemplates Whether Juvenile Sex Crimes Should Equal Lifetime Registration

A map showing registered sex offenders residing near the Kansas Statehouse. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

A bill in the Kansas House would require children convicted of sexually violent crimes to register as sex offenders for life. That’s the same penalty adults face.

Under current law, juvenile offenders over 14 can be required to register as a sex offender for serious crimes. However, in many cases juvenile offenders are not required to register for the public offender list.

The bill was prompted by a double murder in Newton. The victims were 24-year-old Alyssa Runyon and her 4-year-old daughter.

The man who pleaded guilty to the crime, 19-year-old Keith Hawkins, had been convicted of indecent liberties with a 5-year-old girl when he was 12. He was sent to a juvenile detention center after further charges, but was released early. His conviction was the type not included in the public sex offender database.

Ed Runyon told lawmakers that his daughter didn’t know Hawkins’ history when she allowed him to stay at her home.

“Allow the public to understand who you’re inviting in. Give us the choice,” Runyon said. “My daughter and granddaughter were murdered because they had no idea about this guy.”

Republican Rep. John Whitmer introduced the bill. He said discretion on the part of judges created the situation where Hawkins was released and the information about his background wasn’t public. He said the bill would set clear rules on registration requirements.

“Had this person been on the public registry,” Whitmer said, “this crime might very well have been prevented.”

Multiple critics of the bill lined up to say children should be treated differently than adults under the law. Opponents include Kansas Secretary of Corrections Joe Norwood.

“Registration is not a proven or effective way to reduce reoffending,” said Norwood in written testimony.

The legislation also comes as the Kansas Sentence Commission and others want to trim back the scope of the state's criminal registries out of worries that they've become too broad. Today, about 20,000 people in the state must regularly update their status with law enforcement, and risk felony convictions if they can't keep up.

Topher Philgreen, with the organization Youthfront, said current law can account for the most serious cases of juvenile sex crimes.

He said some juvenile offenders are children who are confused about sex and act inappropriately. Philgreen said many offenders, especially ones facing less serious charges, can become healthy, productive adults if they get treatment instead of the the stigmatization that comes with being a registered sex offender.

“If we create a law that is just black and white, we’re condemning kids to be on a registry for the rest of their lives for a mistake that they made,” Philgreen said.

Criminal registries in Kansas already cover far more crimes than most states. The Kansas Sentencing Commission has asked lawmakers to take drug offenders off the list.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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