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Washington pays twice for parolee trade deficit

Post by Kim Bradford on Dec. 21, 2009 at 9:00 pm |
December 22, 2009 1:32 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The assassinations of four Lakewood police officers last month has revealed many ugly truths about the criminal justice system.

The latest: Cop killer Maurice Clemmons, who moved here as an Arkansas parolee, is far from the only problem foisted on Washington by other states.

Washington, it would seem, is a popular destination for ex-cons. As The News Tribune’s Sean Robinson reported Monday, the state has responsibility for supervising 2,393 offenders from other states. But only 1,046 of this state’s offenders are doing their probation in other states.

Several factors contribute to the parolee trade deficit. For starters, the numbers are skewed by the fact that Washington’s offenders cycle off other states’ probation rolls more quickly than the offenders this state typically receives.

That’s because Washington tends to send fewer people to prison and to require less community supervision once they’re released than other states. The offenders sent to us often come with longer probation periods, and therefore remain on our side of the ledger longer.

But stiffer sentencing laws don’t account entirely for the out-of-whack size of Washington’s out-of-state caseload. The state is somewhat of a magnet for ex-cons. Washington is a darn nice place to live, and that’s not lost on offenders.

Washington pays twice for this trade deficit – in precious tax dollars and even more precious community safety. The offenders pay varying fees for the privilege of serving their probation in this state, but those fees doesn’t begin to cover the price of supervising them or putting innocent lives back together should they return to their old ways.

The state’s hands are tied to a certain extent. The Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, which governs transfers of offenders mandates, that the state accept certain parolees. It is not designed to create a parolee trade balance.

Changes to the compact take at least a year and require the approval of all 50 states; Washington is but one vote. Gov. Chris Gregoire may have temporarily suspended transfers from Arkansas in the wake Clemmons’ murder spree, but the state can’t hold out forever.

Secretary of Corrections Eldon Vail is taking a closer look at the compact – first to see if the state is accepting too many discretionary cases and second to suggest possible changes. He has a vested interest in seeing Washington’s parolee burden lightened, with lawmakers taking aim at his department’s budget time after time.

Allowing offenders to move across state lines makes sense in some cases. Offenders may need to move to find work or be close to family, steps that can help keep them out of trouble.

But Washington should be ensured some semblance of fairness – especially considering that some of the offenders inevitably end up trampling the very quality of life they came here to enjoy.

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