Tag Archives: McNeil Island

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?

McNeil Island Prison — Washington’s Alcatraz — To Close

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It appears to be the end of the road —or rather a ferry route — for a prison older than Washington state itself.

Indeed, our very own Alcatraz.

McNeil Island Corrections Center, home to about 500 inmates and a place where 245 DOC employees work, is closing after 135 years of protecting the public and punishing and rehabilitating felons.

It’s uncertain what this will mean for the Special Commitment Center, also housed on the island for sexually violent predators and run by the state’s Department of Social and Health Services. But DOC stands to save about $6.3 million a year, according to a press release.

“This will save the most money without compromising the safety of our staff, the offenders and the public,” DOC Secretary Eldon Vail said in the release. “The budget crisis is causing us to make some of the most painful decisions in our agency’s history.”

Here’s what I wrote about McNeil in an entry last year:

The territorial prison there got its first prisoners — two men who’d sold booze to Native Americans and one who’d robbed a fort store — in 1875, according to HistoryLink. When I visited the place last spring, the man who provided escort for me on the ferry ride told me an interesting fact. It wasn’t built for Alcatraz-like security reasons (i.e. its icy cold water surroundings) but rather because that’s just the way everyone commuted back then.

This prison’s older than the state itself, also giving it the unique distinction of being the only prison that started as a territorial facility, which then became a federal pen in 1890, and then a state prison in 1981. It was supposed to be temporary to run it to allieve overcrowding, but now almost 28 years later, it’s still going.

It’s expensive, as you might imagine, to haul inmates — and all the things that go to incarcerate them — on a ferry. That’s the likely reason for its possible closure.

If they do close it, perhaps the state could open it up to tourists — just like Alcatraz — and house a museum there.

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.”