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Counties Obliged to Provide Sex Offender Housing

Sam Eaton
10/02/2001

Mcneil Island’s state-mandated halfway house for violent sex predators is nearing completion. But with only 24 beds in the Pierce County facility, the state is looking to other counties to share the burden. KUOW’s Sam Eaton reports.

A FEDERAL JUDGE RULED IN 1999 THAT KEEPING SEX OFFENDERS LOCKED UP INDEFINITELY IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. RESPONDING TO THAT MANDATE, THE STATE IS SCRAMBLING TO PROVIDE TRANSITIONAL HOUSING FOR HUNDREDS OF MEN HELD AT MCNEIL ISLAND’S SPECIAL COMMITMENT CENTER. 24 BEDS WILL SOON BE AVAILABLE NEARBY THE PRISON COMPOUND. BUT IN ORDER TO STOP ACCUMULATING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN FEDERAL FINES THE STATE WANTS TO LOCATE SIMILAR FACILITIES IN 12 MORE COUNTIES. STEVE WILLIAMS WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES ACKNOWLEDGES THE FIERCE RESISTANCE TO PUTTING HALFWAY HOUSES WITHIN COMMUNITIES. BUT HE SAYS KEEPING THEM IN THE SPECIAL COMMITMENT CENTER IS NO LONGER AN OPTION. What the public needs to understand is that these are not prisoners. They were convicted, they served their time in prison, when they were finished with their prison sentence, then a judge, and or a jury decided that they needed to be civilly committed under the mental health statute into the special commitment center for further treatment for their sex predator problems. WILLIAMS SAYS IF THE COMMITMENT CENTER IS TO LIVE UP TO ITS ROLE AS A MENTAL HEALTH FACILITY THERE HAS TO BE A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. THAT LIGHT BEING A WAY TO TRANSITION BACK INTO THE COMMUNITY. THE STATE WOULD SELECT COUNTIES FOR HALFWAY HOUSES BASED ON THE NUMBER OF SEX PREDATORS EACH HAS COMMITTED. KING COUNTY FOR EXAMPLE, WOULD HAVE TO PROVIDE 15 BEDS BY 2007. IN EXCHANGE THE COUNTY WOULD RECEIVE UP TO 100 THOUSAND DOLLARS, PER BED. THE STATE, WHICH HAS ACCUMULATED 3-MILLION DOLLARS IN FINES SO FAR, IS UNDER PRESSURE TO FULFILL THE COURT ORDER BEFORE ITS NEXT HEARING IN FEBRUARY. SAM EATON, KUOW, 94.9 PUBLIC RADIO.
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