Governor orders no further release of inmates
Seattle Times staff reporter
Gov. Christine Gregoire has ordered the state Department of Corrections to stop freeing convicted felons who violate the terms of their prison release back onto the streets before they have served their full sentence.
Gregoire's announcement today comes less than a week after the DOC released 90 convicted criminals from jails in King and Snohomish counties. "I am outraged that this has happened," Gregoire said in a news release. "Public safety is a priority of my administration and offenders must be held accountable for their actions."
Lori Ramsdell-Gilkey, hearings programs administrator for DOC, said the releases were done because the number of DOC offenders incarcerated at the King County Regional Justice Center and the King County Jail in downtown Seattle exceeded the number that the facilities are contracted to hold for the state corrections department.
All of the offenders released were being supervised by DOC community corrections officers. Community corrections is similar to probation programs in other states.
The DOC hasn't responded to comment about Gregoire's order.
The DOC had planned to review 150 offenders for conditional release because of overcrowding at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, but canceled those plans following the criticism over last week's release, Ramsdell-Gilkey said.
DOC officials say there is an overflow of convicted felons in nearly all of the 14 facilities the corrections agency contracts with across the state.
"We're reaching critical mass everywhere," Ramsdell-Gilkey said. "What we did Friday will only help us for a few days. We have got to learn how to deal with this violator population without using confinement as our only option."
On Friday, the DOC ordered the release of 83 convicted criminals from two King County jails, as well as an additional seven from the Snohomish County Jail because the number exceeded the amount the facilities are contracted to hold for the DOC.
The move was unusual because of the number of offenders released at one time and the fact that the community corrections officers who supervise the offenders' cases weren't consulted, Ramsdell-Gilkey said.
Though Ramsdell-Gilkey said the DOC's goal was to not put "seriously violent people out on the street," several of the offenders released had prior convictions for rape, assault, theft and drug possession. The DOC ordered the release of 83 offenders from the King County Jail system, but only 55 hit the streets — the rest remained in jail because they were wanted by other police agencies, a DOC spokesman said Tuesday.
All of the offenders released Friday were told to report in person to their community corrections officers by 5 p.m. Monday. Neither Ramsdell-Gilkey nor DOC Secretary Harold Clarke knew Tuesday how many offenders had followed this order.
Community corrections officers in Seattle said that about 50 percent of the people released had reported. A significant number of the offenders incarcerated in the King County Jail system had previously failed to attend mandatory appointments with community corrections officers, a violation of their prison release terms.
Seattle police on Tuesday picked up one of the men for alleged drug traffic loitering. Jeremy Polston was taken to a DOC office and later released; he was not sent back to jail, police said.
On Tuesday, two Republican legislators in Olympia demanded answers from DOC about how they monitor offenders who are on community corrections supervision, which is similar to probation in other states.
Clarke said Tuesday that a new plan for how these offenders should be monitored and his suggested alternatives to incarceration will be detailed in a report he will give Gov. Christine Gregoire next month. Gregoire ordered a report after the deaths of three Seattle-area police officers after encounters with DOC felons who were on community corrections supervision.
Seattle police officers Joselito Barber and Beth Nowak and King County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Cox were killed last year in three separate incidents.
State Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said offenders who violate the terms of their prison release should be punished more severely.
"If we can find $1.2 billion to spend on schools I think we can find another $20 million to keep kids safe. Or whatever it takes," Carrell said. "This has got to be about keeping people safe. Felons are laughing at the system."
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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