The state Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would give local governments more input on where the state Department of Corrections (DOC) chooses to house recently released inmates.
The proposal, introduced by Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, would deal with ex-inmates who have their rent paid by the DOC’s rental voucher program. Offenders who are eligible for release can have their rent paid for by the DOC program for up to three months, which DOC officials say is cheaper than keeping them in prison past their earned release date. (Offenders have to secure stable housing as a condition of their release plans.)
Senate Bill 5105 would require the DOC to maintain a list of approved inmate-housing options, and to notify local governments when a new property in their jurisdiction is added to the list. City or county officials could then object to proposed inmate housing if they think would conflict with the surrounding neighborhood, or if there are too many offender homes in that area already.
Dammeier’s proposal was born from a situation in his hometown of Puyallup last summer. Hundreds of Puyallup citizens expressed their concerns to Puyallup City Council members about a proposed group home that they worried could hold multiple recently released sex offenders. Such a facility didn’t belong in a residential neighborhood, they said.
But city officials realized they had few ways of regulating the state rental voucher program and where it places ex-inmates, said Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen.
Dammeier’s bill would require the DOC to consider whether inmate housing would be a good fit with a given neighborhood before locating a halfway house there. Homes that house four or more offenders would have to have additional services provided to ensure that the former inmates abide by the conditions of their release plans.
The bill has gone through several sets of changes, one of which made it apply to all released offenders instead of just sex offenders.
Another amendment made on the Senate floor Thursday removed language that would have made aspects of the residential landlord-tenant act inapplicable to ex-inmates living in clean and sober housing. Critics of that part of the bill said it made it too easy for offenders to be evicted and end up on the street.
The bill now heads to the House for consideration.