South Sound News

Senator seeks to stop violent offenders from being released into communities

TACOMA, Wash. — One South Sound state senator says he wants to see violent sex offenders and mental health patients stop being housed among the general public.

Senator Steve O'Ban of Tacoma says they should instead go into secure facilities once they leave Western State Hospital or sex offender treatment.

The state's largest mental health hospital – Western State -- is in Pierce County, along with a sex offender treatment center.

Many of those offenders are released into local communities.

One state senator says many can be violent and he wants to see changes to keep people safe.

The death of a man at an adult family home in Lakewood in late October is just one example of incidents O'Ban says have gotten out of control.

“We’ve had an epidemic of individuals being released by Western State Hospital and from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, folks with terrible violent pasts, said O’Ban.

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In one recent case cited by O'Ban, a resident died after being attacked by another man who allegedly hit him in the head with a coffee mug.

“As we investigated the assault, we found that the suspect, who has mental issues out at the family home, had just attacked the victim over a drink of some kind of soda beverage that was shared,” said Lakewood Police Lt. Chris Lawler.

O'Ban says that’s why he has pre-filed two bills to be taken up when the state legislature opens its session later this month restricting which patients from Western State Hospital and the state's sex offender treatment program on McNeil Island can be placed in adult family homes.

The proposal states people with self-endangering behaviors that are frequent or difficult to manage, have aggressive, threatening, or assaultive behaviors -- and intrusive behaviors that put residents or staff at risk -- must instead be placed in enhanced services facilities based around the state.

O'Ban says such housing would be secure and provide more safety -- something he says the Department of Health and Social Services should already be doing.

“So DSHS, the department responsible for these individuals for over 15 years, has had the power to erect appropriate facilities, secure facilities, where people are properly trained to deal with folks with violent pasts like this.  They have neglected to do that even though they’ve had the power and the funding to do so,” said O’Ban.

A DSHS spokesman told KIRO 7 funding is in place to study sites for enhanced facilities, but that doesn't include construction costs.

The bills will go before the legislature when the new session begins on Jan. 14.

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