Drug Policy

Kansas Registers Drug Offenders as Well as Sex Offenders

But a new bill could change that.


Willeecole | Dreamstime.com

Back when meth was the drug war's primary target, several states created registries for people convicted of making or selling the drug. Kansas went further than anyone else. There, anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute any illegal recreational drugs other than cannabis are required to register for a minimum of 15 years—and unlike other states, the Kansas registry includes their picture. (It formerly included their addresses, but that was later removed due to fear of retaliation.)

More than 4,500 Kansans are now registered drug offenders, and many of them face surveillance, public isolation, and other unnecessary hardships as a result.

Kansas lawmakers are now reviewing a bill that would eliminate drug offenders from the criminal registry. "It is a drain on resources with no science, studies, or data to justify it," defense lawyer Jennifer Roth said at a hearing.

While they are on the registry, those convicted of drug charges are required to appear at the country sheriff's office four times a year. They must also make an appearance any time they move, get a new job, buy a vehicle, change emails, or get a tattoo. Each quarterly visit costs offenders $20, and failing to register—an offense that includes failing to make any one of those appearances—can lead to prison sentences.

The consequences can be crushing. The formerly incarcerated already have an extremely difficult time obtaining a job. And many people examining the registry fail to distinguish between drug charges and sex-related offenses, leading to further problems. The public is hostile to sex criminals, and people are quick to assume the worst about persons registered (though many sex offenders on the registry may not deserve to be there either).

This harsh public treatment leads to social isolation, and critics of the registries suggest such isolation makes recidivism more rather than less likely. Similarly, while there isn't much evidence that registries actually prevent crime, several studies suggest that felons without foreseeable job prospects are more likely become repeat offenders.

"The problem with these registries is that we're creating a class of untouchables within our society who cannot rent apartments or secure employment," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told Prison Legal News during the original push to add drug offenders to the registries. "When you diminish the likelihood that ex-felons can live and work in society, you increase the chances that they will return to criminal behavior."

In light of such problems, other states have rolled back their registering requirements. Hopefully Kansas will join them soon.