Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Offender Accountability Act Announcement
November 18, 1998
Thank you, Scott for that kind introduction. Thank you all for coming.
When we in Olympia talk about public safety, we usually talk about longer sentences for serious crimes. But what you have just heard, from Secretary Lehman and his staff, shows how much more we can do to make our communities safer by changing the way the state Department of Corrections does business in the community.
We have to keep making sure people who commit crimes, especially violent crimes, serve their time. But 97 percent prison inmates are released, sooner or later. That means it’s not enough to run prisons well – we must also do all we can to see that those released felons don’t commit another crime – to anyone, anywhere in the state.
In your folders are some true stories from the case files of Community Corrections Officers, examples of what goes wrong because our laws don’t allow them to manage offenders actively in the community, to prevent future crime.
A kidnapper and burglar in King County is forbidden to have contact with his victim, but nothing in his sentence requires him to deal with the excessive drinking that was a factor in all his past offenses, including assault and indecent liberties.
A mentally ill offender in Wenatchee is required to get counseling for her mental health problems, but not for the drug abuse that is obviously just as big a problem.
A sex offender is released at the end of his sentence, with no "good time" credit. This means the department has no authority over him, even though he has sexually assaulted another victim since his release. Instead, we have to wait for police to forward the case to the prosecutors and wait for them to file new criminal charges.
Cases like those are why we need the Offender Accountability Act, which I will propose to the Legislature in January.
The Offender Accountability Act will apply to categories of criminals who are now subject to some form of supervision by the Department of Corrections.
The Offender Accountability Act will require felons to follow conditions set by the department when they are released from prison or jail, instead of just the conditions set by the sentencing court, three, four or six years earlier.
The Offender Accountability Act will allow the department to modify those conditions as needed, responding to changes in the offender’s behavior and risk level.
It will let the department respond to violations immediately, without having to return to court, using sanctions that match the violation. It will let the department assign its community corrections officers on the basis of each offender’s individual risk to reoffend, instead of just the legal category of his case. And it will deploy the Community Corrections Officers in the neighborhoods where offenders live and spend their time, working with police and citizens to keep their communities safe.
The Offender Accountability Act was developed by the people you just heard from and other professionals in the Department of Corrections. It has a lot of technical terms and concepts, but the basic message to criminal offenders is very simple. When you have done your time for your crime, we’re not done with you. We’re going to stay on your case in the community, and do our best to keep you from reoffending. We’re going to be watching over you.
We will set conditions on your release, based on the risk you present to community safety. Your Community Corrections Officer will be at your door, making sure you follow those conditions. This officer will work with community police officers and citizen groups, like Safe Streets here in Tacoma, to make sure you follow those conditions.
If we require you to get drug or alcohol treatment and you can’t pay for it, we will help you with the cost. You can pay us back when you’re clean and sober. If you fail to abide by these conditions, you face additional jail time.
I’m going to ask the Legislature to join us in sending that message – by passing the Offender Accountability Act. We are proposing $15 million in the next biennium to pay for lower supervision caseloads, the cost of additional jail time for violators, treatment services for those required to get them, and a much-needed replacement of the department’s antiquated computer system.
Can you believe that some of these Community Correction Officers spend half their time at computer terminals, just trying to get information into and out of the system?
Can you believe that they have no power to act when offenders on their caseloads, even commit minor new crimes, except to report them to prosecutors?
Can you believe that they have caseloads as high as 60 high-risk offenders at one time?
The Offender Accountability Act, and the funding that goes with it, will change all that. Of course, it won’t eliminate recidivism. It won’t prevent every criminal from committing another crime. But I believe it will make a real difference in the safety of our communities.
We’ll be doing a better job with the resources we have by directing personnel and resources to the released felons we need to be watching more carefully and by giving more power to our community corrections officers. We’ll be working proactively, as partners with law enforcement and citizens, to make communities safer. We’ll be fulfilling the real potential of corrections – to correct behavior, not just keeping them off our streets.
I appreciate the support of all the people who have come here today. They will be available for questions afterward, but let me introduce a few of them.
Larry Erickson, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and former sheriff of Spokane County.
Judge Tom Felnagle, of Pierce County Superior Court.
Norm Maleng, King County Prosecuting Attorney.
John Ladenburg, Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney.
Jim Mattheis, president of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs.
Priscilla Lisicich, director of the Safe Streets Campaign in Pierce County.
Eileen O’Brien, justice services manager for the Pierce County Prosecutor and chair of the Department of Corrections Victims’ Council.
Chief Annette Sandberg of the Washington State Patrol.
Thank you all for coming. We’ll now be available to take any questions you may have.