Pubdate: Tue, 27 Feb 2007
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2007 Bellingham Herald


SEATTLE -- Eighty-three convicted criminals, including high-risk sex 
offenders and violent felons, have been released from two King County 
jails because they exceeded the total that the state Department of 
Corrections was allowed to place there.

The felons had all been placed in the jails, in Seattle and Kent, 
because they were accused of violating the terms of their release 
from prison. A significant number of the offenders had been arrested 
because they had missed mandatory appointments with community 
corrections officers, said a spokeswoman for the union that 
represents the officers.

Other violations included failing to attend mandatory drug or 
mental-health treatment.

The mass release on Friday, ordered by the Department of Corrections 
(DOC), came after repeated complaints from King County about the DOC 
booking too many people into county facilities.

"We have been in discussions with them about population for a couple 
of months now," said Maj. William Hayes, spokesman for the King 
County jails. "They were basically put on notice that there needs to 
be a reduction."

All of the felons were freed from the jails before an 
administrative-hearing officer could rule on how they should be 
punished for violating terms of their earlier release. The DOC 
ordered the releases without its usual consultation with the 
community corrections officers who supervise the felons and know 
their criminal patterns and backgrounds the best, said a 
representative of the union that represents the officers.

The releases came as Gov. Christine Gregoire awaits a report from the 
DOC about why two Seattle police officers and a King County sheriff's 
deputy were killed last year during encounters with felons who were 
being sought for violating terms of their release.

DOC spokesman Gary Larson defended the Friday releases, saying the 
agency had exceeded the number of inmates in the release program who 
could be housed at the downtown Seattle jail and the Regional Justice 
Center Jail in Kent.

In its contract with King County, DOC pays for 220 jail beds, Hayes 
said. The jail system housed 304 DOC inmates last week.

Larson said DOC reviewed each felon's case before the release.

"We feel we are making responsible decisions. We didn't just say 
'you, you and you are free,' " Larson said. "We had no choice but to 
do something about the situation in the jail. We couldn't put any 
more violators in there."

Among those released were Jordan Kingbird, 34, a Level III sex 
offender whose criminal history includes rape, drug possession, theft 
and four counts of failing to register as a sex offender.

Level III sex offenders are those considered to be a potential high 
risk to the community and a threat to re-offend if provided the 
opportunity. The DOC said other Level III sex offenders were also 
among those released, but a spokesman said he didn't have further details.

"We've had officers killed, we've had officers injured, and all of 
them at the hands of somebody who should have been in prison," 
Seattle Police Officers' Guild President Rich O'Neill said Monday. 
"You make a judgment call; you better be right. If one of these sex 
offenders gets out and re-offends, who is responsible for it?"

Nearly 25,000 former inmates across the state are under court order 
to be supervised by community corrections officers, a program 
commonly known as probation in other states. If the former inmates 
violate terms of their supervision they can be put in work release, 
told to perform community service, or ordered to take drug tests or 
serve up to 60 days in jail, said Mindy Merrill, chairwoman of 
Northwest labor-management communications for Council 28 and Local 
308 of the Washington Federation of State Employees, the union that 
represents community corrections officers in King County.

In the past, former inmates who violated terms of their release were 
housed in prison until a DOC administrative-hearings officer could 
determine their fate. But in recent years the DOC has signed 
contracts with county jails to house them because of prison 
overcrowding, Larson said.

"This is the first time I've seen DOC do something like this," said 
Merrill, who is also a community corrections officer. "We put out 
these warrants because these people don't report Ato DOCA. These 
people will all be back in jail next week."

Merrill said that all of the felons released Friday afternoon were 
told to check in with their community corrections officer by 5 p.m. 
Monday. The officer could then determine what happens to them.

The DOC didn't know Monday how many people followed this order.

One officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said many of the people 
freed Friday were arrested during Seattle's Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras 
celebration Feb. 20 because they had violated terms of their DOC 
release and warrants had been issued. DOC officers worked closely 
with Seattle police that night to keep the often raucous celebration safe.

The officer said DOC staff members were told by their bosses to avoid 
making too many arrests because of jail overcrowding.

Merrill said DOC officers were asked to work closely with Seattle 
police during the Fat Tuesday celebration but felt as though their 
hands were tied. She said the Corrections Department encouraged 
officers not to make new arrests, even of people who officers thought 
deserved to be behind bars.

"The problem is the department will not listen to the pleas of the 
community corrections officers about the population who won't go to 
treatment or go to classes," Merrill said. "Our system isn't being 
taken seriously."

Larson, of the DOC, said he didn't know what staff members have been 
told in recent weeks about jail overcrowding.

Ton Johnson, president of Local 308, Washington Federation of State 
Employees, said jailing the felons is often the only option DOC officers have.

"It's an offenders' choice. Some of them don't want to change their 
lifestyles and participate in treatment. Confinement is the only 
thing that protects the community," Johnson said.

DOC has been struggling to house inmates for several years. About two 
years ago, it signed an agreement with Snohomish County for 225 beds. 
DOC often exceeds that allotment and pays an extra $67 per additional 
bed per day, Snohomish County Jail spokesman Jim Harms said.

In King County, the DOC pays $70 for each jail bed over its allotted 220.
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