Thursday, September 29, 2005

No strikes you're out!

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully

as when they do it from a religious conviction”
Blaise Pascal

WA State Senator Pam Roach from South King County is always locked and loaded for bear when it comes to the issue of what to do with sexually violent predators in Washington State. "Let's face it, 100 years ago you'd get hung. So we shouldn't feel too bad about getting tough on sex offenders." She was quoted and saying in a Seattle Times article recently. I’m sure she just string them up if she could get away with it today. Funny thing is most people probably wouldn’t totally disagree with that. Sex offenders have become the modern equivalent of a class of evil sub humans that most people don’t care to even have to think about. They simply should be locked up in jails behind fifty foot high fences with razor wire on top guarded by snarling dogs and machine gun toting guards with orders to shoot and ask questions later. But most important these facilities should be located somewhere far away from “their” neighborhood or city. Perhaps at the North our South Pole? Better yet lets just shoot them and save the taxpayer some money.

Add to this the recent demonic news accounts about the Idaho case of predator Joseph Edward Duncan III and 7-year-old Shasta Groene and her family. This has created a call here in Washington State by citizens for even tougher laws to deal with such predators. Duncan by the way is from Washington and committed his first sexually motivated crime here as a teenager. Roach, one politician who knows a winning issue when she sees one, has already proposed the tough Washington 2-strike law (2 “sexual assault” offenses brings life sentence) be reduced to 1-strike. Or, no strikes you're out, I guess. You commit certain predetermined violent sex crimes and it’s life in prison scumbag.

Funny, because many women’s advocacy groups who deal with the victims feel that the one-strike laws would work to reduce actual convictions because victims are often the relatives or close family friends of the pretator and become more reluctant to report them to authorities if they know it means a life sentence. But Roach, as usual appears to be using the issue for political gain and not always looking at realities. She often uses the half cocked approach or “shoot from the hip” style before her brain get fully engaged. Something her constituents, who continue to elect her, apparently fined endearing.

Washington State has made real progress dealing with sexually violent predators during last 15 years after a slow start due mostly to the “political hot potato” nature of this problem. Most all politicians like the citizens they represent would rather not have to face the issue. Politicians fear they’ll be blamed if a predator should slip through the cracks in the system and assault, rape or kill new victims, Much like the Idaho case where Duncan apparently took advantage of a legal blind spot( out on bail for new offenses) and was in reality a “ticking time bomb”unmonitored and unable to control his urges to kill, kidnap and sexually assault new victims.

Historically speaking, in 1990 Washington State created the Community Protection Act, also known as the Sex Predator Law. The law allows the state to hold sexual predators for an indefinite period of time after their sentences have been completed if they were judged by civil courts to be a continued danger to society. The state started to do this and created a facility especially for such offenders at the site of the State Prison on McNeil Island near Tacoma, Washington where the offenders, in theory, where to be “treated” in the hope that they could be eventually release back into society. During this same period many of the professionals treating sex offenders around the country had begun to embrace the opinion that certain types of offenders where in fact not receptive to rehabilitation. They were more or less bound to offend again if released. This is one of the main reasons for the dichotomy we find ourselves in today. The offenders had served their sentences but could not be released back to society. The state agency in charge of dealing with these prisoners in reality ended up offering limited treatment and little chance or release, choosing instead to error on the side of extreme caution in the belief it was the only way to protect the community from the predator. This created a situation where the offenders were in effect just being “warehoused” at McNeil Island with little hope of every being released. Public defenders and civil rights groups protested and filed suits asking the court for relief based on the violation of their clients civil rights.

In 1994 a federal court judge, the late William Dwyer, ruled on a 1991 civil-rights lawsuit alleging that the constitutional rights of sex offenders who had served their criminal sentences and then were civilly committed under the Community Protection Act to the state's McNeil Island treatment center were being violated. The state was held in contempt for being slow to carry out the judge's order to provide sex offenders with adequate mental-health care and the opportunity to move to less-restrictive transitional housing, and the judge began fining the state $50 per day per resident at the treatment center. Currently that fine tallies in the millions of dollars and the amount is still growing.

Many years passed and much haggling took place, No public official in his right mind wants to deal with allowing a sex predator facility in his jurisdiction. Ordinary citizens in communities throughout the state would declared open warfare whenever it was suggested that such a facility be located in or near their neighborhoods. Believe me I know because I lived in one close to where the facility actually ended up. There was great “gnashing of teeth, rallies, meetings, leaflets, calls for the heads of local politicians, and even terror in the hearts and minds of nearly every man woman and child in the neighborhood. Most politicians typical reaction was to back their constituents and fight against such facilities or just ignore the problem altogether, hoping against hope that the problem would just go away. With the fines for contempt continuing to accrue and the order of the court still hanging over the state’s head the state legislature finally took action in 2002 to create some sort of plan. The new law targeted King, Snohomish, Thurston, Clark, Kitsap and Spokane counties for the creation of transitional housing facilities, where treatment was to be provided. After lots more finger pointing and several “not in my neighborhood” protracted battles in King County, a facility was sited in an old warehouse in a industrial part of central Seattle near 1st and Spokane Street. The facility opened September 7th 2005. It has a two-year operating budget of $3.7 million, and cost 1.7+ to build and renovate. I believe that the facility has just 3 residents so far. I’ll let you crunch the numbers on the cost per person. The offenders are closely monitored and supervised and even are monitored with GPS devices at all times.

As I indicated before Washington has made progress dealing with this most undesirable element of society. Quoting a recent Seattle Times article: “Since 1990 prison terms for sex crimes have doubled. Hundreds of the most predatory go straight from prison to a locked treatment center. Home addresses for thousands more are easily retrieved from a state Web site”. Statistic also shows that sex predators re-offending has been reduced. Sex offenders are now less likely then other types of criminals to re offend in Washington State. Mostly, I would think, because of severe restrictions place upon them by the new laws. Many are locked up or closely monitored in halfway houses or homes or otherwise in the rifle sites of the neighborhood vigilante group at any given time.

The state also has some of the strictest laws in the nation that require sex offenders to register. Their identities and location is readily available on the internet. Published by government agencies to warn citizens of the presence of a sex offender in their neighborhoods. This has lead to vigilante type reactions in several communities when word got out that a offender was moving into or living in the house down the block. In fact recently two sex offenders were shot dead in their residence by a Bellingham, Washington man claiming to be upset about the Shasta Groene case in Idaho. He also claimed he had been molested as a child. He openly admitted the murders in a letter to the Seattle Times shortly after the incident. I would suspect that some potential jurors here would perhaps think he was actually preventing future sexual assaults and be open to letting him get away with murder. Emotional and moral reactions like these are not uncommon when it comes to sex predators.

The city of Issaquah located just East of Seattle is considering a law that would restrict where offenders live in the city limits. It an attempt to further restrict their ability to re-offend. This will be just one of the hot topic in the state Capitol during the next session of the state legislature. A body that will be faced with new calls from the public to get tougher when it comes to dealing with violent sexual offenders.

The deeper question remains though. They concern the underlying causes of violent sexual deviancy and rehabilitation. Are these individuals just “broken human beings” who are doomed to be locked up away from society forever? Or can they be rehabilitated? Some obviously cannot be saved. But probably some can. Someday perhaps we will find a better way to treat and determine who the offenders are who are worth saving and who should remain confined.

Dealing with the sex offender problem is difficult because if brings out some of the worst emotions in people. Rehabilitating them so they can re-enter society or even looking at the facts open-mindedly sometimes is really not considered the first option. It seems more like a damage control, personal security, revolting, feeling of disgust, retaliation and, of course, never in my neighborhood emotions are always the feelings that win out with these offenders.

Meanwhile we continue to move towards a public policy that says, if you perpetrate a sexually violent crime in this society once. You will probably end up spending the rest of your life in jail.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from Olympia, and well put, too. It's clear that you've devoted a fair bit of attention to understanding this issue, more than Pam Roach has.