Category Archives: sex offender issues

Maybe putting sex offenders on an island wasn’t such a good idea

The Tacoma News Tribune reported Sunday that some state lawmakers are hoping to move the state’s center for sexually violent predators off McNeil Island in South Puget Sound.

The move could save the state some $6.6 million a year. The problem with moving it: would you want to live next door to such a place?

The center, which the Kitsap Sun devoted a special report to in December 2010, was a bit cheaper to run when the state Department of Corrections ran a prison on the island, and could save money by having inmates work aboard the ferries and other core island tasks. But now that corrections is gone, the Special Commitment Center, home to nearly 300 people deemed sexually violent, is even more expensive.

The SCC houses those who’ve done their prison time but have been determined by a jury to be too dangerous to release until they can be treated.

I ask you, dear readers: Is it worth saving the money to move this facility?

The ‘Registry’ Phenomenon: How Far Should it Go?

In December, we wrote about the limits of sex offender registries. Basically, where should policy makers draw the line when deciding which offenders should be tracked years after they’ve served their prison sentences?

Currently in Washington, we have only a registry for sex and kidnapping offenders. But other states have proposed setting up registries for various crimes. That means that after they’ve done their time, certain offenders must disclose their addresses to authorities and can be monitored more closely.

Federally, there has been talk of an arson registry. In Nevada, felons are registered. In Suffolk County, N.Y, animal cruelty convicts are.

And just this month, Connecticut lawmakers started looking at a registry for gun offenders, according to the Hartford Courant.

At the crime in America symposium I attended in New York, Ohio State University Professor Douglas Berman posited that sex offenders are the “canary in the coal mine,” with regard to registering. They were the first required to do so — and it appears that they won’t be the last.

Child Porn Prosecutions Skyrocket

An interesting, if creepy trend in criminal justice these days is the growing number of (mostly) men prosecuted for having child pornography.

There was a time when child porn was exchanged on polaroids in back alleys around the nation, one local detective told me recently. But these days, the internet has made it possible to move millions of pictures and videos instantaneously, and law enforcement is struggling to keep up.

In the words of AP writer Paul Elias:

The number of federal child porn cases has exploded during the last 15 years as Congress passed mandatory five-year minimum sentences and federal authorities have declared such investigations a priority.

The FBI has made more than 10,000 arrests since 1996 and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reports a similar number of arrests since its creation in 2003. The U.S. Department of Justice says prosecutions are up 40 percent since 2006 resulting in roughly 9,000 cases. In 2009, 2,315 suspects were indicted.

No crime’s prosecution has exploded similarly, Elias points out: a 2,500 percent rate increase by the FBI.

We are not immune to child porn prosecution here locally either: some examples can be found here and here.


As a reporter, you can never truly know how a story will impact those who read it. For one local woman who read Tuesday’s story about a man being sentenced to prison for child molestation, it hit all too close to home.

Donna, a victim of sexual abuse, told me she wanted to convey to the victims of the man that they are not alone and that she’s been able to find a way to move on.

I’ll let her words speak for themselves:

“Hello, my name is Donna. After reading your story about the ‘Kingston man gets more than 5 years in prison for molestation,’ I felt the need to write to you.

I have a request if you could please (I’m hoping your able). Is there a way you could get a message to all three of these children? My message to them is they don’t have to be a victim, but be a survivor of molestation. See, I am 36, a wife, and mother of 5 growing wonderful children. I am also a survivor of child molestation. Not by one man but by 7 men … Only one was ever charged. Please don’t get me wrong, my life wasn’t the best. In April ’89, I tried to commit suicide. I was in foster care from the age of 14 to16 1/2. I have had struggled with relationships with my mother, my step mother, men, employers. I have battled with depression and sometimes still do. I was promiscuous, for a time I drank.

But I DID graduate high school, met a wonderful man, married him and five years ago found God again. Jeremiah 29:11 states “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I will never understand why I went through the things I did BUT I know God has had a plan all along. The things that happen made me who I am. In the state of mind I am in now looking back I wouldn’t change what happen. I am STRONGER. I am a SURVIVOR NOT A VICTIM.

So in closing Mr. Farley, is there a way to let these children know 1) they are not alone. 2) God has a plan, let God guide you, and 3) Choose to be a Survivor, not a victim.”

AP: Locking Away Sex Offenders Stressing State Budgets

In these tough economic times, no expenditure is safe. And that even applies to locking up the most sexually predatory sex offenders, the topic of an Associated Press analysis piece published Monday.

Twenty states operate treatment facilities that keep sex offenders locked up indefinitely, including Washington — home to the nation’s first such program on McNeil Island. These so-called “sexual violent predators” haven’t committed a new crime, but under the Community Protection Act passed in 1990, they’re deemed too dangerous to risk having them on the streets.

But, as the AP found out, they’re expensive to keep locked up.

The AP said 5,200 sex offenders are in facilities, including on McNeil Island, at a price of around $500 million — about $96,000 per person. That’s a lot more than it costs to keep prison inmates locked up.

The story says such laws allowing the facilities were passed when budgets were bigger. And as Martiga Lohn writes:

“The programs have created a political quandary for lawmakers who desperately need to cut spending in the midst of a recession but don’t want to be seen as soft on rapists and child molesters.”

What do you think? Is it time to rethink spending all that money? Or are they simply too much of a risk in the community?

Supreme Court: Sex Offenders Can Be Held Indefinitely

The US Supreme Court has upheld a 2006 law that allows for the federal government to imprison sex offenders beyond their sentences if they’re deemed “sexually dangerous.

Sound familiar? That’s because Washington was the vanguard in sex offender confinement with its passage of the Community Protection Act of 1990. That state law, along with creating a registration and community notification system for sex offenders, also set the stage for the state’s Special Confinement Center on McNeil Island — a place that holds those deemed “sexual violent predators,” indefinitely after they serve their prison time.

From what I’ve read, there isn’t that much different about the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and Washington state’s law. The federal Walsh Act allows a judge to determine if a person should be held past their sentence; our state law allows for a kind of jury trial to determine if they should be confined indefinitely.

But I think the US Supreme Court’s overwhelming 7-2 decision puts more weight behind the Washington state law.

Here’s part of the decision, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor:

“The statute is a ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others,” Justice (Stephen) Breyer wrote.

But here’s what I see as the most important aspect. Like Washington state’s law, it seemed Breyer — and U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a supreme court nominee who argued the government’s position — believe sex offenders are as great a risk to public health as a disease outbreak.

From the Washington Post:

Kagan in January compared the government’s power to commit sexual predators to its power to quarantine federal inmates whose sentences have expired but have a highly contagious and deadly disease.

“Would anybody say that the federal government would not have Article I power to effect that kind of public safety measure? And the exact same thing is true here. This is exactly what Congress is doing here,” she said.

But not so fast, wrote Clarence Thomas, whose overarching fear seemed to be the idea of a national police force — an overreach by the federal government in his mind. From the Monitor:

“Protecting society from violent sexual offenders is certainly an important end,” Thomas wrote. “But the Constitution does not vest in Congress the authority to protect society from every bad act that might befall it.”

Next Session, Lawmakers Will Look at Sex Offender Clusters

Last week, local residents aired their concerns about a clustering of sex offenders at a few properties on the 900 block of Washington Avenue. Most weren’t worried about an offender moving to the street; it seemed to be the fact that there were eight on the block — a “concentration,” many called it.

Well, the state legislature may just tackle such an issue in two planned bills — house bill 1430 and senate bill 5648 — when lawmakers meet in Olympia next year.

Here’s the text, as given to me by Bremerton police’s community resource specialist Andrew Oakley:

“(The Bill) Requires the department of corrections to, prior to approving a residence location and in addition to any other factors considered by it in exercising its discretion regarding release plans for and supervision of sex offenders,consider the number of registered sex offenders currently residing within one mile of the proposed address.”

The bills will be heard in committees in early February. I’ll keep an eye on the discussion.

Sex Offenders and Bremerton: ‘What is the Attraction?’

The population of sex offenders has been steadily rising in Bremerton. Andrew Oakley, Bremerton police’s community resource specialist, sent me some data recently that confirms this: in January 2008, there were 186 such offenders; in January 2009 there were 196; now there are 210.

I point these stats out not to scare our local residents, but rather to ask why we’re seeing such an increase. (I should also point out that crime in Kitsap and Bremerton has been steadily decreasing overall.)

Is it budget cuts by the Department of Corrections that’s leading to more offenders being released? Is it an increased amount of disclosures by victims that is leading to more convictions? Is Bremerton simply a place that has services and housing availability, as was pointed out in Tuesday night’s meeting concerning offenders on Washington Avenue? Perhaps a mixture of those?

I got an email earlier this week from Tom Isbell, who ran his own data using the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office “Offender Watch” web site (I’d encourage you to check it out too). He found a higher concentration per capita of level 3 and level 2 sex offenders in Bremerton than that of Seattle.

His analysis: (Number of sex offenders/total population/percentage of offenders per population)

King County: 1596 / 1,826,732 / (0.1%)

Seattle 963 /  596,000 /  (0.2%)

Bremerton 103 /  population 34,079 /  (0.3%)

Kitasp County 248 / population 239,769 / (0.1%)

He ponders such a concentration as well:

“Is it low income housing and cheap rent? Is it the services like an offender rehabilitation/treatment program offered in Bremerton? Is there a benefit for a landlord to rent to convicted sex offenders? I find it strange that there are that many convicted sex offenders in such a small area,” he said in his email.

“What is the attraction?” he added.

I’ll be looking for answers to these questions. In the meantime, please feel free to weigh in with your own analysis.

Release of Sexually Violent Predator in Mason County Debated


For the first time, a man deemed a sexually violent predator by the state may be released.

The Special Commitment Center for sex offenders on McNeil Island houses about 300 men. In 18 years, none have been released.

Until now.

Gary E. Cherry, 50, could go home. Three times convicted of rape, the Shelton man will be released “without restriction if a Mason County Superior Court hearing goes his way,” said Dean Byrd, Mason County chief deputy. His petition for release will be held at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 1 before Mason County Superior Court Judge Amber Finlay.

Mason County Commissioner and state senator Tim Sheldon is none too pleased with such a release. Here’s Sheldon’s full statement:

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Sex Offender in Your Neighborhood? Find Out Where

These days, finding out where convicted sex offenders live is as simple as a  click of a mouse. And the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office just added one more tool in such a search.

“Offender Watch,” which you can check out for yourself at the sheriff’s office’s web site, keeps tabs on all registered sex and/or kidnapping offenders, and allows you to search through their compiled list. You can also search an address and get a map of all the offenders in a two mile radius.

Here’s perhaps the most useful part of the new program. You can get emailed anytime a new offender comes into that two mile area.

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