OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday that she’ll tap a state emergency fund to start tracking the state’s riskiest sex offenders with 24-hour-a-day electronic monitoring.
“Frankly, we can’t wait,” said Gregoire, meeting with journalists Wednesday at the state Capitol. She said she’ll ask state lawmakers to bankroll the program permanently at the next legislative session in January.
Although state correctional officials are already using such devices on about 20 people as a form of “partial confinement,” state prisons Secretary Harold Clarke said, this is the first time they will be used to supervise people who’ve completed their sentences. By the end of the week, Gregoire said, five Level 3 sex offenders will be wearing the tracking devices. That number will rise to 50 by mid-2008, she predicts, and 150 a year later.
Republicans praised the move, but some said Gregoire is not going far enough to corral sex offenders. The House GOP, for instance, called months ago for a special legislative session to beef up sex offender laws.
“I don’t think it’s going to give my district or anybody else in the state an increased level of comfort,” said Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way. “It’s obviously a very, very, very small step. We should be taking a number of other critical steps now, rather than later.”
There are 303 Level 3 sex offenders who have served their prison time and now are under state supervision. Level 3 offenders are those who state officials deem the greatest risk for offending again, and account for about 10 percent of the roughly 3,000 total supervised sex offenders statewide.
Gregoire said she’s expecting the cost of the tracking to be about $400,000 for the first year. That includes hiring three new correctional officials to oversee the system. The state Office of Financial Management estimates the annual equipment cost will be about $3,200 per person.
More changes are also afoot.
Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge, who’s chairing a task force on sex offenders, said the group will soon ask Gregoire to propose a new law requiring past sex offenders to submit DNA samples to a national database. That’s already the law for anyone convicted today.
“I’d like to go back to every living offender who is in the community,” said Hauge.
“I’m not sure that the law will let us do that. But what we intend to propose is that we be as aggressive as possible to get as many people as possible into the database.”
The “passive” global positioning system devices being attached to offenders allow state officials to download data on where the wearer has been for the past 24 hours, said Don Pierce, with the state association of sheriffs and police chiefs.
“I think there’s a perception amongst the public that if you do active tracking, that it’s like the air traffic control system and there’s somebody watching everyone move. Well, the technology just does not allow for that.”
But the daily downloads show if a person is somewhere – like a school – that he or she shouldn’t be, Pierce said.
Gregoire said that under the state’s understanding of the law, Washington can only apply the monitoring to sex offenders who committed their crimes after June 7, 2006. There are only 32 such Level 3 sex offenders so far.
Gregoire also said that she’s asked the attorney general’s office to revisit the issue and see if the state can legally reach back to offenses since “at least 2001.”
The GPS monitors are attached only to the riskiest of the Level 3 offenders, Gregoire said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.