An unfortunate series of break downs in the criminal justice systems in both Washington and Arkansas culminated in the execution of four Lakewood Police Officers by habitual criminal Maurice Clemmons. Governor Christine Gregoire response was to direct “state Corrections Chief Eldon Vail not to accept any new parolees from Arkansas until matters arising from the Maurice Clemmons case have been addressed and resolved,” in order to “make sure that the system is appropriate to protect Washington residents.”
That’s quite a load of holier-than-thou attitude, but I guess I should just be thankful she’s finally taking an interest, given that Washington’s Department of Corrections has such a dismal track record under her leadership.
In August of 2006, a Seattle Police Officer was killed; in November of the same year, another Seattle Officer and a King County Sheriff’s deputy were killed, all by parolees living under State supervision who had violated the terms of their parole.
Then, just a few months later, in February of 2007, 83 felons were released from King County jails, before an administrative-hearing officer could rule on how they should be punished for violating the terms of their parole – what is called a conditional release.
DOC spokesman Gary Larson defended the Friday releases, saying the agency had exceeded the number of inmates in the release program who could be housed at the downtown Seattle jail and the Regional Justice Center Jail in Kent.
In its contract with King County, DOC pays for 220 jail beds, Hayes said. The jail system housed 304 DOC inmates last week.
Larson said DOC reviewed each felon’s case before the release.
“We feel we are making responsible decisions. We didn’t just say ‘you, you and you are free,’ ” Larson said. “We had no choice but to do something about the situation in the jail. We couldn’t put any more violators in there.”
Among those released were Jordan Kingbird, 34, a Level III sex offender whose criminal history includes rape, drug possession, theft and four counts of failing to register as a sex offender.
Level III sex offenders are those considered to be a potential high risk to the community and a threat to re-offend if provided the opportunity. The DOC said other Level III sex offenders were also among those released, but a spokesman said he didn’t have further details.
As a result of that incident, Gregoire ordered that the DOC stop the conditional release of felons; however just two weeks later, the DOC had reinstated the practice.
In a memo to the DOC after the Feb. 23 releases, the governor ordered the agency to stop all conditional releases. Gregoire said that when offenders are returned to prison because of a violation, “the offender must serve the full term of custody. Anything less sends the wrong message to the violator and threatens public safety.”
But Gregoire said Tuesday that her concern was conditional releases done solely because of overcrowding.
“My point to them was you can’t let people out simply because there’s no room at the inn,” she said.
I wonder if Gregoire was able to deliver that little bit of excuse making with a straight face. More importantly, I wonder if she felt that the conditional release of felons was “appropriate to protect Washington residents.”
And who can forget the bizarre story of David Torrence, who, upon release from prison, was fitted with an electronic tracking device and, because of a lack of appropriate housing, was given a sleeping bag and told to sleep under a bridge near the town of Snohomish. Five miles from the home of the woman he was convicted of raping in 1995. That would be the woman who wasn’t notified of his release from prison, because forewarned is forearmed ignorance is bliss, right?
After only three days, Torrence cut off his tracking device and fled the state – in what is one of the most ironic twists imaginable – to Arkansas. He eventually turned himself in and returned to Washington to serve another year for violating the terms of his parole. Then, doubling down on the irony:
A sex offender who was allowed to live under a Snohomish County bridge when he could not find housing has been sentenced to a year in jail and given other terms that will allow him to move to Arkansas.
I couldn’t determine Terrence’s current whereabouts with any degree of certainty. I did find this information on the King County Sheriff’s Department website. As you can see, he’s “non-compliant” and his location is unknown. I hope the women in Arkansas are locking their doors.
Gregoire’s statement is brazenly hypocritical, intended to focus the blame on Arkansas, as if her administration and her Department of Corrections hadn’t granted early releases to thousands of felons and had a spotless record with regard to parolees and public safety. Arkansas’s parolees are the least of our worries.