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WA SOPB chair reiterates support for community notification on sex offenders

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(The Center Square) – Brad Meryhew, chair of the Washington State Sex Offender Policy Board, said he wants to clear the air regarding a research document by an outside agency that was brought up by Cathy Dahlquist, a former state legislator, at the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

The document is a summary put together by the SOPB’s data scientist of a draft Model Penal Code document from the American Law Institute, a Philadelphia-based research and advocacy group of judges, lawyers and legal scholars. The MPC concludes that community notification actually undermines public safety, recommending that sex offender registries be reserved for law enforcement and not be made available to the public. The institute reasons that notifications and registries make it more difficult for offenders to re-integrate into the community.

“I can tell you that support for community notification on our board is unanimous,” Meryhew told The Center Square during a Thursday phone call. “I would not support a proposal to eliminate community notification.”

He said the Evergreen State is a pioneer in terms of community notification.

“Washington was the first state to have community notification with our community notification program in 1991 – the Community Protection Act – and it created the three-tier system of community notification that has been used by states and has been used by the federal government,” Meryhew said.

At the request of state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, chair of the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee, the SOPB is examining potential revisions to sex offender sentencing ranges, as well as looking at post-conviction policies.

The summary document, Meryhew explained, is part of the SOPB doing its due diligence in staying up to date with the latest research and policy proposals on sex offender management.

“The focus of that handout was about our project that we’re working on now, which is felony sentencing seriousness levels,” he added. “You know, all we can do is make recommendations about things that we are asked to make recommendations about.

“And so we routinely look at all kinds of research as sort of part of our ongoing work.”

Controversy over the document erupted after Seattle-based radio talk show host Ari Hoffman on Sept. 26 posted a screenshot of the first page of the summary document on social media with the headline, “EXCLUSIVE: Democrat Governor Jay Inslee’s Sentencing Guideline Commission wants to roll back registration, community notification & residency restrictions for WA sex offenders claiming the laws ‘undermine public safety'”

Text at the top of the summary document inside an arrow labeled “Key Quote,” points to the quote itself, which reads, “The result, convincingly documented, is that these laws actually undermine public safety, the exact opposite of what lawmakers and the public so confidently assume they accomplish.”

On Sept. 28, The Center Square published a story about the summary document. Several other media outlets also covered the story.

Confusion over the summary document’s intent seems to stem from a lack of context provided within the 7-page document itself. While the document is titled “Summary of MPC: Sexual Assault and Related Offenses Tentative Draft No. 6,” there is no mention that the information comes from ALI or that the document is for research purposes only.

The Center Square reached out to ALI for comment.

“The document you reference is not an ALI document,” Jennifer Morinigo, the organization’s chief communications and marketing officer, emailed The Center Square. “It appears to be another’s summary of our work. I have not had the time to review this carefully, so cannot attest to its accuracy.”

The topic of community notification was on the agenda of Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the SOPB, where Meryhew reiterated that the SOPB has no intention of getting rid of community notification.

“It turns out the Sex Offender Policy Board strongly supports community notification and has never considered a proposal to change it in any way,” he said.

During public comment period near the end of Sept. 21 SOPB meeting, Dahlquist referenced the summary document and its conclusion against community notification, calling its proposed changes “unconscionable” and saying it “directly impacts the safety of survivors and victims.”

At the time, Meryhew initially seemed confused by Dahlquist’s comments but quickly figured out she was referencing the summary document.

“I just didn’t know what you were talking about,” he said. “That’s a national organization that makes recommendations to every state, and I’m not sure how close we looked at [it].”

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