Sheriff takes lead in sex offender issues

For Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, the state Department of Corrections’ plan to release a high-risk sex offender to roam Oak Harbor homeless last May was an eye opener.

He received a crash-course on the laws and policies regarding sex offenders and quickly discovered just how thorny the subject can be.

“It’s one of the most complex issues out there in the law-and-justice system,” he said.

The crisis ended well when Gov. Chris Gregoire personally intervened and made sure the Level 3 sex offender went to Everett, where he had housing.

But Brown still had concerns about how the system works. He wanted to help make it better, so he asked to be appointed to the newly-created sex offender policy board. He is now the statewide representative for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. The 16-member board is under the umbrella of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

“I want to be involved. I want to be a factor,” he said. “It’s a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly.”

Brown said the group has some difficult issues to tackle. The board will look into research and best practices related to risk assessment, treatment and supervision of sex offenders. Brown said they will look at what other states are doing.

Also, the board will review certain sex-offender cases to see what worked or didn’t work. Brown pointed to the case of Zina Linnick, a 12-year-old Tacoma girl who was raped and murdered by a registered sex offender.

One of the issues Brown is most interested in is the transitioning of sex offenders from prison and back into the real world. Making sure that a sex offender is successful, he pointed out, means the general public will be safer.

“I have personal experience with the potential for mismanagement of the introduction of sex offenders into our community,” the sheriff said.

Brown said one topic with potential for controversy is a possible change in the way sex offenders are categorized based on their perceived risk of reoffending. The question is, the sheriff explained, whether those who gauge the risks look just at the crimes the offenders were convicted of or if they look at a range of indicators, which is how it’s done now.

“Should it be crime based or risk based?” he said. “This could change the way we do everything related to sex offender reentry.”

A change, he added, could also mean a big increase in the number of offenders labeled as high risk.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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