By Tom James / Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A lawmaker from the district holding the troubled Western State psychiatric hospital said Friday that measures before the Legislature would restrict what he described as the disproportionate placement of violent offenders in the area after release.
One of the bills would require violent offenders to be released in their home counties, while the other would restrict placement of some in less-restrictive adult family homes.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, a Republican from the district including much of Lakewood and Tacoma, said offenders ended up “dumped” in his district, sometimes in facilities near residential neighborhoods, and described the case of a man convicted of sexually assaulting children, who he said now lives in an adult family home near an area school.
“These individuals should have been in my view returned to their counties, where they were charged with their crimes,” O’Ban said. “Pierce County should not be the place where these individuals are automatically released.”
Family homes typically contain a handful of adults who live together in a home that is run like a household, under the supervision of trained staff. They are used to house adults who can’t live at home, but don’t need a more restrictive setting.
At the same time they are also used to transition patients from more restrictive institutions back into the community.
Freedom Nitschke also spoke at the Friday event, and said her father was killed by a violent offender who had been placed in the adult family home where he was housed.
Nitschke said the man bludgeoned her wheelchair-bound father, whom she described as “defenseless,” with a coffee mug.
But legal advocates told a Senate committee later in the day that banning some offenders from adult family homes would be unconstitutional.
Sonja Hardenbrook, who spoke on behalf of several organizations of public defenders and defense attorneys, said that would run contrary to due process obligations requiring the state to hold some offenders in the least restrictive facility available.
A representative for the state’s designated disability rights watchdog also voiced concerns over the proposal.
And Katie Ross said on behalf of the King County Department of Public Defense that spreading offenders around the state would make them harder to monitor.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services no longer oversees Western State, which is located in Lakewood. It cut the hospital’s certification and federal funding in June after finding safety issues that contributed to assault and escapes, including by patients hospitalized after being charged with such crimes as murder, rape, kidnapping, and assault.
In addition to the network of psychiatric facilities for non-violent people that has been a proposal of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, O’Ban said the state should build government-run facilities to house violent offenders nearer to their counties of origin, even if counties resist.
O’Ban said the proposed facilities for holding violent patients hadn’t been submitted as a bill, but that he would request they be included in the capital budget, at a cost he estimated to be about $12 million each.