The vast majority of state House members – including all 16 who represent Pierce County – voted Friday to declare that sex offenders freed from McNeil Island detention should go back to the counties where they committed their crimes.
At issue is a small group of former Special Commitment Center residents being released with conditions, often to group homes, as a transitional step toward total freedom.
A News Tribune analysis last summer found Pierce County received nine of the 16 detainees released that way since 2012, even though none of the 16 came from the county.
“It’s not fair that our county should have to bear that burden,” Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, said after the vote. No other county should either, she said.
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Concentration of offenders in Pierce County didn’t occur until recent years. And it didn’t occur for releases without conditions, which account for most of the growing number of detainees exiting the commitment center in recent years.
A defense attorney says the concentration shouldn’t be alarming.
Detainees can receive conditional releases only after going through treatment. They are supervised by probation officers and tracked with GPS devices.
“Nobody has ever re-offended,” Seattle defense attorney Ken Chang said. They are forced back to the island if they so much as “sneeze wrong,” Chang said.
Prosecutors insist they are dangerous – more dangerous than the Corrections Department prisoners who are largely forced by existing state mandates to return to their counties of origin upon release.
The island off Steilacoom houses sex offenders who have finished serving their prison sentences, but who the state has proved or is trying to prove are “sexually violent predators” likely to commit more violent sex crimes if not detained.
Courts decide the location of conditional releases, and lawmakers’ control over courts is limited.
Accordingly, House Bill 1668, backed by prosecutors and sponsored by Kilduff, is closer to a request than an order. It would tell judges to “consider” releasing offenders to the counties where they came from.
The House approved the bill 76-22, sending it to the Senate.
Critics worry a county-of-origin rule would force some offenders to be returned to small counties where their victims still live.
But Kilduff said there are safeguards in the bill for both victims and perpetrators. It says the court should consider the location of treatment options, victims, and family or others who might provide support to an offender.