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Sue Lani Madsen: Predators in the neighborhood
May 24, 2023 Updated Wed., May 24, 2023 at 6:22 p.m.
When apex predators are re-introduced into the natural environment, neighbors get nervous. But this column isn’t about cougars or wolves or grizzly bears potentially menacing schoolchildren at rural bus stops. This is about a threat to kids everywhere. It’s about sexually violent human predators.
When our rural village was notified in 2017 by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office of a Level 2 sex offender moving in, I wrote about the impact on a community and the trade-offs involved. Because we had knowledge, we could take precautions. The cross-country team changed its running routes and the school was extra vigilant around the playground to protect potential victims, albeit curbing students’ freedom.
There’s the trade-off in play, balancing the convicted individual’s freedom against protection for society and the freedom of many individuals.
In 1990, Washington passed the Community Protection Act establishing the public’s right to know when a Level 2 or Level 3 registered sex offender is moving into their neighborhood. Until about 10 years ago, civil commitment meant most Level 3 sex offenders were housed securely on McNeil Island. The barrier of a long, cold swim to shore meant the islanders could have more freedom and so could the community.
“It was widely supported until about 10 years ago,” said political activist Glen Morgan. “Now we’re seeing attempts to change classifications and change public notifications, actively supported by the Inslee and Ferguson administration as policy.”
Morgan began digging into the topic after an attempt to locate a private Less Restrictive Alternative facility in his own neighborhood in Tenino, Washington. He described one example of a man with a history of victimizing 50 to 60 children in multiple states as a youth organization volunteer, registered as Level 3, likely to re-offend, and the system attempting to redefine him as Level 2 for easier release.
Anyone who is appalled upon reading the stories of victims of rape, incest and pedophilia should be equally dismayed at letting the violators off the island. “Nobody in the system cares about the impact on the community,” Morgan said.
Sexually violent predators, the legal term for the worst of the worst on McNeil Island, have been released back into neighborhoods across Washington for a while now. Spokane has an LRA located on Lincoln Street, not far from the Spokane Arena. In the past few years, the Spokane Police Department has publicly expressed frustration at the lack of notification when sexually violent predators are moved into the city, but community response has been muted.
The Tenino LRA proposed in 2022 was to be owned and operated under a generous state contract by a former state employee, Angela Rinaldo. Supreme Living LLC would have been paid a maximum of $107,858 per month for housing five men in a $1.1 million dollar country home.
Sure would make it easy to pay off that mortgage and flip the property at a profit. Especially when the minimally trained staff are only being paid $18/hour, according to Morgan.
One might expect Washington Democrats who are aghast at the idea of private prisons to object to private LRA operators, but they are reluctant to push back on agency policies, according to Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn. He does not support private correctional facilities at any level. “If society wants to enforce a societal norm, then society has a responsibility to carry through,” Griffey said.
Griffey and other Republican legislators have attempted to put more effective community notification laws in place prior to SVP release and got nowhere in the last two sessions. In 2023, three bills were introduced and died. Griffey had proposed a three-year moratorium on siting any LRA outside of McNeil Island while working on a comprehensive statewide policy; two other bills added notification requirements.
House Minority leader Rep. Drew Stokesbury, R-Auburn, worked with a few Democrats to insert a provision into the legislation implementing the operating budget to require a limited pilot program. The intent, according to the section vetoed by the governor, was “to provide notice and an opportunity to comment to any community in which the department intends to propose placement of a sexually violent predator” and in addition, if the site is within a mile of “the exterior boundary of the reservation of any federally recognized Indian tribe, the department must first consult with the tribe.”
Gov. Jay Inslee went out of his way to veto these short, simple sections in a 1,405-page bill. According to the governor’s veto letter, the Department of Social and Health Services claimed it would be “administratively burdensome” to notify communities of a dangerous predator in their midst.
There are business owners all over the state who would love to use that excuse to stop complying with all sorts of minutiae generated by the Legislature. Protecting public safety is not an administrative burden, it is a primary duty of government.
Contact Sue Lani Madsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.