Lakewood is no place for sex predators

The News TribuneDecember 9, 2012 

Folks in Olympia may be soon looking for a new community to host 300 violent sexual psychopaths. Lakewood, call your home security service.

Those predators are now housed and supposedly getting treated at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. They are the worst of the worst – a small fraction of the state’s sex offenders.

They wind up at the SCC only if a court has concluded that they have committed a violent sex crime and suffer from “a mental abnormality” that hinders their control of sexual violence and are “more likely than not to engage in predatory acts of violence again.”

There’s a reason they confined to an island surrounded by deep, frigid water.

The Legislature now faces intense financial pressure to move them to the mainland. The SCC began to look like an extravagance last year, when the state shut down the regular prison on McNeil Island. The prison had shared some of the Special Commitment Center’s costs, an arrangement that originally made a good argument for the location.

Now the SCC is sitting out there by itself with an annual budget of more than $30 million a year. A large chunk of that, $6.6 million, results from the island location. The center also needs repairs and improvements – an estimated $12.2 million worth of work in the 2013-2015 biennium.

Most lawmakers would dearly love to divert that money to their pet projects.

A newly released report from the state Office of Fiscal Management has raised the stakes. The OFM has concluded that the Legislature will have to spend as much as $1 million a year maintaining the abandoned prison complex to prevent the island from reverting to federal ownership.

Yet the state will see no benefit from that money as long as a rogue’s gallery of predators prevents the island from being used for something more wholesome, such as parks.

The problem is, a search for alternative locations will quickly turn to mainland Pierce County. It’s already happened: Just a year ago, House budget chairman Ross Hunter identified Western State Hospital the most logical home – after a Centralia site – for the 300 predators.

There is no good solution here. Logically – from an accountant’s point of view – the SCC should be relocated. But foisting 300 psychopaths off on Lakewood would be an injustice heaped on earlier injustices.

Until recent changes in the law, the state routinely used Pierce County as a dump for criminals and the criminally insane. Over the decades, the compounding effect ratcheted up the area’s violent crime rate, which remains disproportionately high.

Innocent people are still murdered, raped and assaulted here because Washington officials thought prisons, halfway houses and other criminal habitats were good enough for Pierce County. Enough. The Special Commitment Center may belong somewhere off McNeil Island, but that somewhere isn’t Lakewood.

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