This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Some lawmakers are considering whether to move the Special Commitment Center for violent sex offenders off McNeil Island as a way to help close the state’s $2 billion-plus budget gap. It has become more expensive to run since closure of the state prison on the island.
The only two choices for relocation being discussed, according to a report Sunday by The News Tribune’s Jordan Schrader, are Western State Hospital in Lakewood and the shuttered Maple Lane School in Ground Mound near Centralia.
Lawmakers should consider a few facts about those locations that make it hard to see where short-term savings could be made – and short-term is what the state needs right now.
• Even if WSH has room for the 285 SCC offenders, security would have to be greatly enhanced. The Lakewood hospital is near a large residential area and across the street from Steilacoom High School, a shopping center, a major public park, ballfields and a children’s playground. Many of the SCC offenders are pedophiles.
• Maple Lane, which has been a medium- to high-security facility for juveniles, is near homes and within a few blocks of an elementary school. At 252-bed capacity, it would require expansion as well as extensive security upgrades.
• Lawmakers from both communities are opposed to having the SCC move in. And public opposition likely would be intense. Witness how hard it was for the Department of Social and Health Services to site a 12-bed transitional SCC facility in a commercial area in Seattle.
That process took years, and at times DSHS personnel had to be escorted by security officers because opposition was so fierce. Now multiply that reaction by trying to site the SCC near schools and homes.
The SCC houses civilly committed sex offenders deemed by the courts to be too dangerous to be released into the general public. They can seek release, but they must go through treatment. About 40 to 60 percent of the offenders refuse treatment, which just about guarantees they won’t get out.
As an island, McNeil provides natural security against these offenders. There’s been only one – unsuccessful – escape attempt from the McNeil SCC, but there likely would be more attempts from a facility that isn’t surrounded by ice-cold water.
Yes, it’s expensive for DSHS to run the SCC on McNeil – about $42 million a year. But the costs of moving it and the 24-bed transitional facility also located on the island would be high both politically and financially. If the SCC is to be moved, it should only be done after an open public process.
Perhaps lawmakers can find a community that actually wants the 400 or so jobs associated with housing hundreds of violent sex offenders. Probably not – which is why the SCC was put on McNeil Island to begin with.