OLYMPIA – Car thieves released from prison in Spokane County could get extra supervision and programs to make sure they don’t fall back into their old ways if the Legislature can solve a possible legal hurdle.
It may be unconstitutional to have a program that extends the time served by felons released in Spokane after convictions for motor vehicle crimes, but not in the rest of the state.
Spokane officials, including Police Chief Craig Meidl, County Prosecutor Larry Haskell and City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, made a pitch for a pilot program for increased supervision of those felons Monday during a hearing of the House Public Safety Committee.
The Senate passed a bill last Monday on a 46-1 vote for a program to test whether extra supervision by the Department of Corrections would cut the chances that those who have served time for vehicle crimes would commit new crimes after they are released. They also could get drug treatment and help finding a job or job training.
The Senate budget released Monday sets aside $349,000 for the pilot program in 2019-21. But it must first be approved by the House.
Meidl said people who steal or burglarize cars usually commit other crimes, including identity theft based on what they find in the cars and home burglaries with the garage openers. Some also buy or sell drugs, or forge checks.
Some are repeat offenders, and he knows of two individuals who stole between 50 and 100 cars between them. They stole so many cars before they were caught they weren’t sure of the exact number, Meidl said.
The Spokane area usually ranks in the Top 10 of lists for the rate of car thefts or vehicle-related crimes, he said in a separate interview.
Haskell said the state should be able to have a pilot program to test whether extra supervision will cut the recidivism rate of car thieves, to determine whether it makes economic sense to try it statewide. Other programs, such as drug courts, are available in some counties but not others, he said.
But Kari Reardon, a criminal defense attorney from Spokane, said the program would extend the sentences of felons from Spokane, but not from any place else, creating an equal protection problem for the state.
“We are penalizing one group of defendants more than other defendants in other counties,” Reardon said. The estimated cost of the program doesn’t contain money for legal costs the state will spend when a defendant appeals, she added.
Committee Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said the bill presents some complex issues but “we’re going to see what we can do about these problems.” The committee could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday afternoon.
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