Politics & Government

Legislature: Send released sex offenders back to county of origin

In a move that could provide some relief to Pierce County, a proposal headed to Gov. Jay Inslee aims to avoid concentrating the state’s most violent sex criminals in any one area.

A News Tribune analysis last summer found courts that ordered supervised releases from the Special Commitment Center since 2012 had placed nine of 16 released detainees in Pierce County, although none of the 16 came from Pierce County.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said judges want to be fair but need some guidelines. The Legislature gave final approval Monday to what those should look like.

“While this law will be more of a request to judges than a demand, I expect it will still have a positive effect in relieving the disproportionate burden of sex offenders being released to Pierce County,” Lindquist said.

Although Inslee’s office has given Lindquist no assurances, he said he’s confident the governor will sign the plan into law.

Violent sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences but legally are categorized as “sexually violent predators” likely to return to crime can be detained at the McNeil Island commitment center.

In recent years, many detainees have won release. State lawmakers’ plan would affect a subset of those releases, those who come with a set of conditions, including supervision by probation officers and GPS tracking.

The proposal asks courts to place detainees in the county where a court ordered their commitments, unless that would be inappropriate because of proximity to victims or negative influences, or because of a lack of treatment or sources of support such as family.

“The judge will have an opportunity to balance all of those concerns and make a decision about what is in the best interest of the community as well as the victim,” said Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place.

If a judge does place an offender in a different county, state government would have to explain why to local officials.

One defense attorney who represents offenders told lawmakers that making the release process more complicated would discourage supervised release, which gives offenders a valuable transitional period of adjustment to freedom.

The process would have similarities to one lawmakers have required for prison inmates. That has been successful in keeping Pierce County from being a dumping ground for offenders, said Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom.

“I think it’ll work,” Muri said. “If not, we’ll be back with another bill.”

The proposal started out as a pair of bills pushed by the Pierce County delegation.

When those failed to advance, Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, sought to add the language to a bill requested by the attorney general’s office. The measure would make it harder for detainees to win release from the commitment center without participating in evaluations and treatment.

The Senate agreed, then approved House Bill 1059 unanimously. The House followed Monday with approval on a vote of 87-6.