Report criticizes state's supervision of released prisoners
Seattle Times staff reporters
OLYMPIA — The state's system of supervising offenders released from prison is plagued with conflicting sentencing laws, lack of treatment programs and jail space, an inefficient hearing process and inconsistent sanctions for those who violate the terms of their release, according to a report released today.
Those observations are from the National Institute of Corrections, which was called in to help the state investigate why three felons under state supervision came to be involved in the deaths last year of three Seattle-area law-enforcement officers.
The state Department of Corrections said its own internal review also found that it needs to "respond more timely to violations of community supervision requirements" and that community corrections supervisors need to make sure that officers "are applying policies and standards consistently and appropriately."
The report was in response to Gov. Christine Gregoire's order that DOC Secretary Harold Clarke explain how Seattle Police Officers Joselito Barber and Beth Nowak and King County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Cox were killed. The report went to the governor Wednesday; it was released to The Seattle Times during a meeting with lawmakers.
Clarke will present the report to the news media at 11 a.m.
The report said community corrections officers need "clarification" on when offenders on community corrections — this state's version of probation — need to be incarcerated for new offenses. He said officers need to be more "timely" in their response to offenders violating the terms of their prison release.
The report said supervisors of these officers need to do a more regular policy review to make sure that officers are applying DOC policies appropriately.
"The department anguished over the loss of life of the three officers," Clarke told lawmakers of both parties. "We intend to hold ourselves accountable, and we intend to hold offenders accountable."
By June, the DOC will create a consistent policy for community corrections offenders who haven't reported. By August, all community corrections officers will be re-educated.
On Aug. 13, Barber, 26, was killed by Mary Jane Rivas. Rivas has been charged with vehicular homicide and cocaine possession.
On Nov. 13, Nowak, 30, was killed when Neal Kelley collided with her car. Nowak was driving to work, and Kelley was driving a stolen Honda. Both officers died instantly. Kelley was wanted by police for failing to meet with his DOC community corrections officer.
On Dec 2, Cox, 46, was shot twice in the head by Raymond Porter while the deputy was investigating a case in White Center. Porter then shot and killed himself. Before he died, Porter had tested positive for drug use and missed an appointment with his DOC community corrections officer.
Clarke, in the report, is pushing for additional drug and alcohol treatment for offenders in prison and in community corrections.
He said his view is to "lock up people we're afraid of, not who we're mad at." He said people who are a threat to society should remain in prison, but not if they're just an annoyance.
Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, asked Clarke about his new policy of mandating that a warrant be issued within 72 hours of an offender failing to report to their community corrections officer. She said it should happen faster, with perhaps immediate and more severe sanctions.
But Clarke said he instituted the 72-hour rule last fall. The old policy gave up to 30 days to issue a warrant. He said offenders often need a few days of leeway because the offender could be in jail somewhere else.
In reaction to the report, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, told Clarke during the meeting with lawmakers this morning that he understands the need to "be progressive."
"But at some point, if they're not getting the message there needs to be something with real teeth in it," Carrell said.
Lawmakers questioned Clarke about recent news reports that detailed offenders being released to ease overcrowding at the King County Jail. Clarke was critical of the media coverage.
On Feb. 23, the DOC signed off on the "conditional" release of 82 offenders from the King County Jail.
Conditional releases can be ordered only for inmates whose new offenses are considered minor — such as missing a meeting with their community corrections officer — and with the agreement of the officer. And there may be a penalty, such as being required to meet more frequently with the community corrections officer or undergo drug or alcohol treatment.
Gregoire and Republican lawmakers criticized the conditional-release policy after last month's mass release was done without the knowledge of community corrections officers. The felons released included at least 21 with convictions for assault, 15 for drug crimes, nine for burglary, three for rape and one for kidnapping.
In the report released today, the DOC plans to create a more consistent conditional release policy by June.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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