As the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) prepares to release more sexually violent predators (SVPs) into communities across the state under the current costly and broken system, 35th District lawmakers Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, and Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, were shocked to learn their bill to fix that system would not be getting a hearing during the 2024 legislative session.
“Protecting the public is one of our primary duties as state lawmakers, and we have come up woefully short here because of the majority party’s tunnel vision on reforming violent criminals,” said MacEwen. My seatmates and I have worked extensively with all stakeholders on this issue, and it is insulting to every community in the state now faced with the release of SVPs into their neighborhoods not to be given a voice in Olympia.”
“This is outrageous,” said Griffey. “We have heard loud and clear from our constituents in the 35th District and many other communities across the state that are being caught off guard when the state places SVPs in their communities with little to no notice and, in some cases, virtually no oversight that we need a better system. We offered the starting point for that system overhaul, and despite verbal promises that our bill would be given a hearing, it was ignored.”
“We did not come up with these proposals without careful thought and consideration,” said Couture. “For the better part of two years – and especially over this recent interim, we have been hard at work on this issue, meeting with stakeholders, and receiving a tour of McNeil Island to fully understand the current process. For all of that work to be ignored at the cost of public safety is outrageous.”
Among other things, House Bill 2093 would ensure all LRAs are owned, operated, or contracted through the state to improve accountability, transparency and oversight.
“Under the current system, DSHS often works with private for-profit, third-party operators who, in some cases, have refused to allow on-site inspections, creating a gaping hole in the oversight of these facilities,” explained Griffey.
“That puts the public at risk,” added Couture.
In addition, House Bill 2093 redefines where SVPs can be released, places new restrictions on the siting of LRAs, adds specific notification and engagement requirements for DSHS with local governments, law enforcement, prosecutors, and community members before an LRA can be sited, bars SVPs from, choosing their own LRA, and improves transparency of SVP treatment plans, including the criteria used to determine their eligibility for release.
“We understand that we are constitutionally required to provide a path to conditional and eventually unconditional release of SVPs,” said MacEwen. “However, our current system is a broken patchwork that leaves our most vulnerable at risk, which is unacceptable.”
“This thoughtful, well-informed legislation is the result of countless hours spent engaging with law enforcement, prosecutors, treatment providers, DSHS, management at the Special Commitment Center, and importantly, our constituents and communities across our state, said Griffey. “It is an effort to create a working system that meets our constitutional obligations while prioritizing public safety and state accountability. I am extremely frustrated that we were not even given the opportunity to have this important discussion with a hearing in the 2024 session despite being promised we would.”
“Our communities in the 35th District brought this to us more than a year ago because they were worried about their families and neighborhoods’ safety. They did the heavy lifting to stop the Tenino facility from opening, but that was only the beginning of the work needed to ensure the safety of communities across Washington state,” said Couture. “My seatmates and myself have put in months of hard work to build this thoughtful legislation and prioritize the safety of our communities. Unfortunately, the majority party continues to prioritize criminals over the safety of the people of Washington – and especially over those whom these sexually violent predators have victimized. I am disgusted.”
On the positive side, Couture’s House Bill 1926 did receive a hearing and is currently sitting in the Rules Committee awaiting a vote on the House floor. The bill ensures that SVPs serving a concurrent sentence cannot earn community custody supervision credit concurrently that counts toward their community custody supervision requirements under an LRA placement. Put simply, they cannot double dip on earned supervision credit and must serve any supervision required under an LRA placement consecutive to other supervision requirements.
“I am pleased to see my bill regarding Department of Corrections (DOC) supervision credit is still moving, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to all we need to do to improve the current system related to SVPs,” said Couture. “We are not done. We will continue to fight for these reforms that are so important for the people of the 35th District and the state of Washington.”
“I look forward to the chair of the Community, Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee hearing this important issue when we bring it back in a fresh bill in 2025,” said Griffey. “My concern is that it is nearly a year from now, and in the meantime the state has plans to release more SVPs into communities across the state that I truly believe will be at risk due to the gaps in oversight, transparency and security in the current system.”
MacEwen, Griffey and Couture encouraged everyone concerned with this issue to reach out to the chair of the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee directly here to share their concerns.
With the 1990 Community Protection Act, Washington became the first state in the nation to enact a civil commitment law for SVPs.
SVPs are defined as someone deemed by an expert to suffer from a “mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence” if released into the community.
The law allows prosecutors to petition the court to block the prison release of a sex offender who has served their sentence and meets the criteria of an SVP and have them diverted to civil commitment for treatment at McNeil Island indefinitely if it can be proven at trial that they meet the standard. SVPs are considered the most likely to re-offend.
While SVPs used to be housed indefinitely on McNeil Island but, in the wake of legal challenges, the courts have said SVPs must receive treatment at McNeil Island and undergo annual assessments to determine if that treatment has worked. They now qualify to be released to one of two Secure Transition Facilities, operated by the state, or a Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA), often run by a private for-profit third party that does not provide adequate security and does not provide necessary access for state oversight.