Top sites for halfway house selected

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

MONROE — While Walla Walla won a sweepstakes Friday that it didn’t want to win, Monroe is not out of the running.

State Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Dennis Braddock announced that a site near the state penitentiary at Walla Walla was his top choice for a secure residence for sex offenders making a transition to normal life.

A location south of Monroe is still on the list as a "possible alternative site."

Another Snohomish County site near Arlington, at the old Indian Ridge Youth Camp, dropped out of contention over the past week.

The idea is to move three offenders out of confinement at the prison on McNeil Island, where they’ve been undergoing treatment at the Special Commitment Center. The state is under intense court pressure to move some of them to "less restrictive" confinement and ease them back into the community.

Walla Walla was the recommendation of Braddock’s Secure Placement Advisory Committee. Monroe and two sites in Spokane County are considered alternates in case the Walla Walla placement falls through.

The four were on a list of 11 state-owned sites that the committee reviewed.

The Monroe site, three miles south of the city limits near the Monroe Correction Complex Farm, dropped from being the top choice only because of a long response time from law enforcement in that part of the county, said Brian Carpenter, an aide to state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

City officials aren’t happy that the site near their town was picked as an alternative.

"I would like to urge you in the strongest possible terms to seriously consider the selection of another site for this facility," Monroe Mayor Bob Holman wrote in a letter to Braddock.

In a statement issued Friday by the mayor, Holman noted that the community already is home to more than 2,000 convicts at the prison complex. The city is already doing more than its fair share, he added.

Holman also expressed concern about the selection process and the fact that city officials were not notified that the Monroe site was under consideration until that fact was published in the newspaper earlier this month.

Dunshee’s office is happy that the Arlington site was eliminated, but will "do everything possible to make sure no sex offender halfway houses end up in eastern Snohomish County," Carpenter said.

Dunshee has pointed out that the Monroe site goes against criteria approved by Braddock and his committee.

The secure residence is not supposed to be close to schools, parks and day-care centers. It’s also supposed to be within five minutes’ response of law enforcement.

Dunshee said it takes Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies an average of 16 minutes to respond to an emergency in the vicinity of the prison farm. A "suspicious" call takes 22 minutes, he added.

DSHS hopes to move a three-bedroom modular home onto a Walla Walla site by March. It would be the first community treatment facility for those confined at the Special Commitment Center.

Braddock pointed out the state faces fines of $5,500 a day for not complying with an order of U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer to start moving treated people out of the commitment center.

The center is treating about 125 people who were civilly committed there after serving prison sentences for sex offenses.

According to the state plan, up to three eligible residents would be moved out of McNeil in March, and another three as early as May to some undetermined second site, possibly on private property. They would be under 24-hour supervision with one staff member for each resident during all daytime hours.

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