'Prolific offenders' in Seattle result of case delays, lack of oversight, report says

Seattle business owners on Monday highlighted failures of the criminal justice system in Seattle, showing how repeat offenders cycle through “with little accountability and no apparent impact on their behavior.”

Business leaders from Pioneer Square, the University District, Chinatown/International District and downtown Seattle all were familiar with a report titled System Failure: Report on Prolific Offenders in Seattle’s Criminal Justice System.

The report’s abstract described it as “an analysis of 100 individuals with a high frequency of criminal activity in Seattle focused on understanding their impact on public safety in the city’s busiest neighborhoods, the root causes of their problem behaviors, and why Seattle’s criminal justice system fails to reduce their recidivism.”

Many of the prolific offender crimes involve theft to pay for drugs, it states.

The report highlights several points, including how prolific offenders with severe mental health conditions pose a serious threat to public safety, how they often fail to comply with court-ordered conditions, and how case filing delays hamper Seattle’s retail theft program.

In May 2017, KIRO 7 highlighted how long case filing delays in Seattle’s City Attorney’s Office allowed suspects to commit other crimes. When charges were eventually filed, assistants working for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes often gave no explanation for the delays.

Holmes declined to speak with KIRO 7 for that report, which can be read here.

The System Failure report was prepared by Scott Lindsay, who in 2017 challenged Holmes, who won with 73 percent of the vote. Lindsay is also a former public-safety advisor for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

KIRO 7 Reporter Dave Wagner is working on a story about one of the prolific offenders, Travis Berge, who was the impetus for the prolific offenders report.

Berge is addicted to meth and has accumulated more than 30 criminal cases in Seattle over the past four years. KIRO 7 reporter Graham Johnson also is getting reaction to the report from Mayor Jenny Durkan, and that will all be part of KIRO 7 News live at 5 p.m.

Previously, KIRO 7 reported in 2018 on how then-Senior Presiding Seattle Municipal Judge Kimi Kondo said the City Attorney's Office had a "complete disregard for public safety" in a plea deal it offered a suspect accused of threatening an African American man. Follow this link to read that judge's concerns with the City Attorney's Office.

Holmes released the following statement Monday afternoon. He did not address case-filing delays mentioned in the System Failure report.

"This report confirms what we already know - nearly all prolific offenders commit crimes rooted in mental health and/or chemical dependency issues.  There's little question that without direct intervention and enhanced investment in mental health, chemical dependency treatment, and housing options, this population is extremely likely to reoffend upon completion of their respective sentences.  Few would argue the traditional criminal justice system is the best way to remedy these underlying issues, which is why we're invested in the King County-led Familiar Faces Initiative and Vital pilot program, created to address the behavior of the region's most frequent offenders.

These business improvement organizations raise legitimate concerns - to have a person harm their business or employees, serve their sentence, then return to commit that same crime again is as dispiriting as it is alarming. This report makes no recommendations, but whatever the next step, this is a conversation that must include our King County government partners as well, in that they lead the region's coordination and investment in mental health and addiction treatment."

KIRO 7 reporter Alison Grande asked Edward McKenna, presiding judge for Seattle Municipal Court where cases involving the City Attorney are handled, for comment on the report. As the presiding judge, McKenna is the spokesperson for the judges.

"The report points out many flaws and shortcomings in our justice system," McKenna said. "We need a global review from all perspectives, and to the extent possible, a coordinated response.  It’s not clear yet how all justice partners will respond to this report but our court is committed to being an active participant for change."

Anita Khandelwal, director of the King County Department of Public Defense, gave a statement Monday on the report.

"A report issued today by several neighborhood districts in Seattle underscores the complete inefficacy of the criminal legal system in addressing homelessness and behavioral health issues," Khandelwal said. "It underscores the fact that we continue to criminalize mental illness and homelessness, when in fact we need a new approach – one that provides meaningful supports for people in our community who are struggling.

Khandelwal also said the report failed to recognize the "humanity of  the people it profiles," said that her clients are harmed by incarceration, "and our community needs to provide them with housing and services."

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