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Washington Sex Offender Community Placement Dilemma

When "high-risk" sex offenders are released from Washington State prisons their pictures, names, addresses, and offenses are broadcast on the local news. Armed with that information, angry neighbors often drive them from the communities they're released to. With no one willing to hire them and no place to live, those offenders end up destitute and homeless - the very situation in which they are most likely to re-offend.

Since February 2000, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) has tried to remedy the problem by housing sex offenders with no other options in hotels. Their identity and location is not publicized. Of the 279 men so accommodated, none has committed another sex offense.

According to Scott Lee, a Seattle area community ectlons officer, most repeat sex offenses are committed by people who are homeless and unsupervised. Lee routinely checks an those living in hotels in the Seattle area to ensure that they are complying with curfews and other release requirements. "It's better to have them in a place where we know they're at," said Lee.

Victoria Roberts, a DOC Community Protection Unit administrator, also believes placing such offenders in hotels reduces the likelihood of re-offense. By allowing them to be homeless and destitute, "you're creating the next victim pool by not managing their placement," she said.

Even so, Representative Ida Ballasiotes, of Mercer Island, is dissatisfied with the policy. She believes hotel owners should be required to tell potential guests about any offenders living there.

Ballasiotes has pushed for stiffer criminal punishment since her daughter was killed by a work release prisoner in 1988. She was involved in legislation providing life sentences for those committing a second sex offense, and is a strong supporter of the Special Commitment Center (SCC) on McNeil Island near Steilacoom, Washington. Some repeat sex offenders are civilly committed to the SCC, where most will spend the rest of their lives.

Ballasiotes recently learned from a reporter that sex offenders were being housed in hotels and promptly called the DOC to complain. She finds it "absolutely inexcusable" that these offenders are allowed to live in hotels without potential guests being told they're there. "Since when do we care more about level 3 [high risk] sex offenders than we do potential victims?" she asked.

Unfortunately, Ballasiotes' proposal will create the very danger she purportedly hopes to reduce. Hotel owners will certainly refuse to rent to those offenders before they will lose business by telling other guests they live there. Those offenders will then be homeless, which Roberts says will "create the next victim pool," and Lee says will leave then unsupervised and more likely to re-offend.

Just what should be done with sex offenders after serving their prison sentences is difficult to say. what should not be done, however, is less complicated. If forcing then into homeless destitution dramatically increases the likelihood that they will re-offend, then that obviously is what should not be done.

Fortunately for society and prisoners alike, Ballasiotes has announced her retirement this year from Washington politics. Without her vendetta-based myopia, state government may at last be able to find actual solutions to the very real problems of how and where to place sex offenders after their release from prison.

Source: Seattle Times

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