Tacoma Urbanist

Feb. 23, 2008 at 1:03am

Op-Ed Tacoma Prevails Against State’s Felon Placement


Below is the Op-Ed the Tacoma Weekly published this week of mine.

Yes, one on the felon "dumping ground" issue in Pierce County.  See the previous post.

I post it here (legally) as the Weekly does not post publish its op-ed pieces online.

Rest assured, I would rather write about parking issues, urban design, blank walls, streetcars and "rails to trails" or coffee shops.  Yet, Tacoma and Pierce County's propensity to be the location of choice for felons for the DOC for the last 30 years, forces Tacomans to confront this issue. 

The acuteness of Tacoma's crime issues in the past have threatened the very functioning of many parts of the city and the willingess for people to choose Tacoma over a 3 acre lot in Olalla.  There is still alot of progress that needs to be made.

Here's the PDF version of the article

Tacoma Attains Rare Victory Against State’s Felon
Placement Program


The successful grass roots effort to repel the State of Washington’s latest attempt to place yet another felon halfway house in Tacoma through a 1.1 million CTEP state grant was a critical accomplishment for the city.

Tacoma Councilmember Connie Ladenburg skillfully framed the issue in context with the cities’ visioning process for Tacoma’s future stating “I want us to stop being the community of released offenders.” (TW 2/1/2008)

Until a few years ago, Tacomans had little choice but to sit by and read in the newspaper the details of how their friends, family and relatives were victimized from every conceivable type of crime by released felons who had committed their crime in another county with little knowledge of the cause.

Citing an FBI study of 2002, Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne has explained that two thirds of the felons placed in Pierce County committed their felonies outside the county and 67 percent of released felons re-offend and end up in jail within 3 years.

Thus, for every three felons that have been moved into Pierce County, we can expect at least two additional crimes here within three years.  

Despite good intentions, work release facilities appear to have no beneficial effect on keeping felons from re-offending. A report cited by both Prosecutor Gerry Horne and the Tacoma City Club report showed that Pierce County work release facilities had a recidivism rate of 48 percent, higher than the 43 percent for those persons released directly from prison.

Saturating Tacoma and Pierce County with felons has not only caused the personal pain, trauma and disruption of lives that crime produces.  Fiscally, Tacoma’s high crime rate has depleted our city and county funds for arresting, prosecuting and jailing felons who commit crimes here as well as paying for their legal defense.  These funds could have been spent on other needed community programs such as reducing the drop out rate in the schools or rebuilding the city.

One can certainly understand the motivation behind the DOC practice of locating high number of felons in Tacoma and Pierce County as housing costs are relative low cost, there are long term relationships with local “non-profits” and service providers and the skillful resistance of other counties in resisting the placement of such facilities.

As an example of the disparate treatment by the DOC, the Seattle PI recently reported that the University of Washington in Seattle was able to persuade the Department of Corrections to move 13 sex offenders away from the University.  Even with a far higher concentration of felons, Tacomans are expected to simply endure such an injurious environment.  

The fact that Tacoma’s Hilltop was ever considered for yet another felon placement facility grant given the high concentration of felons in the area makes one question whether State of Washington officials ever intend to meaningfully implement the goals of the fair share legislation.

However, changing 30 years of the practices of the DOC and other state agencies will be a challenge and require the continues perseverance of citizens, neighborhood groups, elected leaders and the media.  Few issues are an important for candidates to address who are seeking public office in the county and state races this year.

As harmful as some choices were in the past, Tacoma can make new choices and obtain a safer more attractive community for its current and future residents and employers
.  Tacoma Police, the City of Tacoma and Pierce County have set a laudable goal of significantly reducing crime.  Reducing the number of felons located in the city to no more than Tacoma’s proportionate share will be an essential step to obtain this goal.


Erik Bjornson is an attorney in Tacoma and runs the downtown Tacoma blog Tacoma Urbanist.
 

comments [2]  |  posted under tacoma, washington

Comments

by NSHDscott on 2/23/2008 @ 3:31pm
I understand that Horne and/or others have done a real analysis of "dumping ground" numbers and statistically proven that it's more than just Tacoma whining. My memory is hazy but I definitely remember a TNT article on the subject.

If the imbalance is provable, I hate to even bring this up, but could Tacoma sue the state for compensation for the extra money the criminal overage has cost us over the past decades? And would that be a good move? There are plenty of uses for those millions, but it could cost us in less obvious ways, like politically.

Or, if compensation for past damages was out of the question, how about suing to force them to balance criminal placement immediately? Create a facility or two in Snohomish County and empty one of Tacoma's.

I agree with you that their mindsets and actions don't seem to follow their words. Dumping the state's criminals on Tacoma is like a bad habit, hard to break.

by Erik on 2/23/2008 @ 5:40pm
I understand that Horne and/or others have done a real analysis of "dumping ground" numbers and statistically proven that it's more than just Tacoma whining. My memory is hazy but I definitely remember a TNT article on the subject.

There are two main studies which discuss the history of the issue in some depth. The first is a more concise read. The second one is huge but comprehensive.

Tacoma City Club : Thirty Years of DOC in Pierce County: Is it Worth it?

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/Nov8BlueRibbo...

Pierce County Prosecutor's Final Report on "Crime Warp"

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/final20report...

The Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne Letter 6/2005 is also a good fast read for some insight on how Horne has been fighting the battle.

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/Horne-Email6-...

There is also the TNT "Dumping Ground" series.

If the imbalance is provable, I hate to even bring this up, but could Tacoma sue the state for compensation for the extra money the criminal overage has cost us over the past decades?

That has actually been discussed. Especially if the fair share legislation is not complied with. There has to be some sort of legal basis for it.