Editorials Sex offender changes needed

Cases in Oak Harbor and Everett last week look ridiculous on the surface, but do make that point that it’s very hard to return sex offenders to the community once they have served their time.

In Oak Harbor, the state Department of Corrections wanted to send an offender back to the county in which he was arrested even though he would have to live a homeless lifestyle.

In Everett, a sex offender was told to live under a freeway bridge so he would have a known place of residence.

The Oak Harbor problem was solved by Sheriff Mark Brown, who took the lead in putting political pressure on Corrections to change its plans for the offender. Ultimately, the governor’s intervention made the effort successful.

In Everett, the offender “solved’ the problem himself, but cutting off his electronic monitoring device and making a run for it. Authorities are still looking for him.

In both cases, the immediate problem stems from Senate Bill 6157 passed in 2007, aimed at “changing provisions affecting offenders who are leaving confinement.” Part of the bill required offenders to be returned to his county of origin, “unless it is determined that returning the offender to that county would be inappropriate.” The DOE didn’t pay much attention to that stipulation in either the Oak Harbor or Everett cases.

But give Corrections some understanding. According to its statistics, about 8,500 offenders of all types are returned to communities each year from Washington prisons, and over 25,900 are currently on active supervision in the community. This is a lot of people to place and keep track of and it’s impossible to do it perfectly.

The Legislature obviously needs to do more work on the vexing problem of sex offenders. It’s too expensive to keep them all in prison, so electronic monitoring should be improved. And they should never be returned to communities without a support system to help keep them from reoffending. That precludes smaller areas like Island County.

There should be no such thing as a homeless sex offender. If they don’t have a home to go to, they should be kept in prison. Sentencing guidelines will have to be changed accordingly.

The public at large would probably favor locking up sex offenders who have harmed children and throwing away the key. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give them all life sentences, but with the possibility of parole if they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they have reformed, undergone therapy, and have a home and job on the outside. The state could help them achieve these goals, but would not have to release them until satisfied they are met.

Without changes, sex offenders will continue to make the Department of Corrections and the Legislature look foolish.

School cop position needed

These are difficult times to be a school board member. In Oak Harbor, Coupeville and throughout the region, budget cuts are a fact of life as financial resources fail to match the needs of students.

Oak Harbor has a particularly difficult problem in deciding whether to keep the police office at the high school. The temptation is to cut this non-staff, non-teaching position, because it isn’t directly related to education. When necessary teaching positions are being axed, why keep the luxury of a police officer?

The answer, of course, is the safety of the high school students. The presence of a police officer makes them feel safer, keeps the police department in close contact with the youth of the community, and serves as a deterrent to any distraught, unbalanced student why might think of bringing a weapon to school. As we all known, this happens far too often in our society.

The police officer position costs the school district about $50,000 annually. That’s about half the actual cost, with the city of Oak Harbor paying the remainder. It is to the city’s benefit to reduce teen crime, which is another positive benefit of having an officer stationed in the school.

If school board members decide there is no choice but to cut the police officer position, the community should first be asked to help with the financing. Oak Harbor’s dedicated civic organizations always respond to a real need in the community. If several shared the challenge, they could raise $50,000 annually to keep our kids safe. It’s just too valuable a position to eliminate, regardless of how severe the school budget crisis may become.

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