State DOC to revamp handling of released offenders
Seattle Times staff reporters
What is it?
Community Corrections in the state of Washington is comparable to parole in other states. Offenders released from prison and placed in Community Corrections are required to follow stipulations ordered by a judge or the Department of Corrections. Community Corrections officers enforce the stipulations. Offenders who violate them can face punishment varying from increased reporting and mandatory drug treatment to 60 days in jail.
Who is in it?
All of those in Washington state convicted of a felony are subject to some sort of Community Corrections supervision upon their release from prison. About 27,000 are now under supervision. The length of supervision can last from months to years.
Source: Washington state Department of Corrections
OLYMPIA — The state intends to have in place by June a new policy for supervising offenders released from prison, according to a report issued Thursday that included criticism of its current system as inconsistent, inefficient and plagued with conflicting laws.
Those observations are from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), which was asked to help investigate how three felons under state supervision became involved in the deaths of three Seattle-area law-enforcement officers last year.
The state Department of Corrections (DOC) said its own internal review, which included the comments from the NIC, also found that it needs to "respond more timely to violations of community supervision requirements" and that supervisors need to make sure their 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 in three separate incidents involving felons under supervision.
"My initial review suggests we need more accountability. The Department of Corrections must take steps to increase control of parolees and other offenders," Gregoire said.
Community-corrections officers need "clarification" on when offenders under supervision need to be incarcerated for new offenses, the report said. Officers need to respond faster to offenders who violate the terms of their release.
The report said supervisors need to make sure they are applying DOC policies appropriately.
On Thursday, Clarke couldn't say whether his agency shares any responsibility in the officers' deaths.
"That's a judgment, a decision that others should make. The legal system should arrive at those positions," he said. "But what we need to say to you is that we cannot guarantee at any point that these situations will not present themselves, regardless of how well a particular case has been managed. Offenders will make decisions that are oftentimes not good decisions, and those decisions could cause tragic results."
By June, the DOC will create a consistent policy for handling Community Corrections offenders' supervision, violations and treatment, the report said. By August, all officers will be re-educated on how to handle violations.
King County Sheriff Sue Rahr said Thursday "it will take a collaborative effort involving our criminal-justice, corrections, legislative and human-services community to fix the problem we are having with offenders on community supervision."
In its analysis of the three officers' deaths, DOC found the three offenders involved in the deaths were penalized with less-restrictive "alternative sanctions." All three had been sought for violating terms of their release.
The DOC pointed out in the report that in November it implemented a policy requiring community-corrections officers to issue an arrest warrant if an offender is more than 72 hours late to a scheduled meeting.
At some point, the offenders involved in the officers' deaths had been released early in exchange for attending drug treatment upon their release, according to the report. DOC is doing an audit of offenders released to that drug-treatment program to make sure they are being supervised correctly, the report said.
"Protecting the community is our priority," said Ton Johnson, president of Local 308, the community-corrections officers' union. "If that means a new violation process or re-education, community-corrections officers welcome the opportunity to implement practices that increase our ability to act in the interest of community safety."
The DOC has faced intense scrutiny in recent weeks for signing off on the release of 82 offenders from two King County jails because of overcrowding. All of the offenders signed a "conditional release" — promising to report to their supervisors the following business day.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Seattle Times staff reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report.
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