(The Center Square) – A Washington bill would allow convicted sex offenders classified at the highest risk of reoffending the opportunity to be released from lifetime community custody.
Proponents of the bill argue that it will allow individuals who no longer pose a threat to the community a chance to reintegrate into society, while critics expressed reservations about the type of sex offenders who would be eligible under the proposal.
Individuals convicted of a sex offenses in Washington are classified based on their risk of reoffending, with level one being low-risk and level three being highest risk of offense.
Those classified at level two or three are placed under state supervision known as community custody upon their release from prison. Those deemed to have the greatest risk to reoffend are placed under lifetime custody.
HB 2178 sponsored by House Committee on Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Chair Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, would allow level two and level three sex offenders to petition to be discharged from lifetime community custody after 10 and 15 years, respectively. Under the proposal, individuals would be eligible if they have not engaged in any “disqualifying event,” such as reoffending.
Goodman told colleagues at a Jan. 17 public hearing that the bill is a “starting point” and intended for convicted sex offenders under community custody who are “behaving properly,” but the “burden of being supervised have impaired their life in such a way that is unsupportable.”
The bill stems from recommendations made by the State Sex Offender Policy Board. The board chair Brad Meryhew, a defense attorney for those accused of sex offenses, told the committee that “the legislation before you is thoughtful. It doesn’t guarantee anybody will be removed from community custody.”
Meryhew described level three sex offenders as “more predatory” and have committed multiple offenses.
Also testifying in support of the bill was Dr. Karl Hansen with the Society for the Advancement of Actuarial Risk Need Assessment. He told the committee that the risk of reoffending goes down over time.
“Even the highest risk cases become very low risk,” he said, adding that “the people exiting by the proposed criteria will be no more at risk of sexually offending than the millions of other men currently living in Washington state.”
Restorative Action Alliance Executive Director Amber Vlangas told the committee lifetime community custody “destabilizes” lives and that “these onerous conditions affect the families of those who are under them.”
However, James McMahan with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs pushed back against testimony expressing sympathy for individuals who have “committed the most egregious sex offenses under our laws. This isn’t a population we have a lot of compassion for. But there should be a way that a person can earn their way out of this.”
The WASPC is among the entities represented on SOPB and voted in favor of the recommendation, but with caveats.
“We can get there,” McMahan said. “This version is not that.”
Also expressing reservations was Russell Brown with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, who told the committee that the crimes have a “lifelong impact” on victims.
“We’re not saying we’re not willing to agree to some outlet,” he added. “But I think the level three and frankly the level twos are of significant concern when you combine that with the type of crimes we’re talking about.”