News

Little hope for other sex offender options

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

The state Department of Social and Health Services is reviewing 12 industrial sites as potential locations for a transitional housing facility for sexual predators, but it’s possible none will prove suitable.

“There’s maybe a dozen or so, but if experience holds true, most of them will drop off,” said DSHS spokesman Steve Williams. “We’re still assessing.”

Still, DSHS is delaying until late-March public meetings originally scheduled for Feb. 20 and March 3 to give more time to analyze the industrial sites as well as a rural site in King County, Williams said. Dates and times of the meetings will be announced later.

DSHS has been working with a real estate broker that specializes in industrial properties to find available sites in the county that meet criteria for size, cost and proximity to risk factors.

The transitional housing facilities –– halfway houses for sex predators emerging from prison after serving their sentences –– can’t be built within 600 feet of schools, playgrounds, parks, libraries, bus stops and other places frequented by children or vulnerable adults.

“Industrial areas aren’t just big long stretches of buildings,” Williams said. “One thing that surprises people is there are a lot of daycares located in industrial areas.”

DSHS has been looking for a place to site a transitional housing facility for up to a dozen civilly committed sex offenders since a U.S. District Court judge last year ordered the state to provide alternative housing for sex offenders who have made progress in their treatment programs at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island and are ready to begin transitioning back into society.

While the men are Level 3 sexually violent predators who the state has identified as having a high likelihood to reoffend, they must progress through six phases of treatment on McNeil before they’re eligible to move into transitional housing. There is no time limit on treatment.

So far, none of the men civilly committed has been completely released back into society in the center’s 11-year history.

DSHS is finishing construction of a 24-bed transitional facility, into which four men have been transferred from the center, but a federal judge ordered the state to provide transitional housing options off the island.

Because King County has sent the highest number of convicted sex offenders to the Special Commitment Center, the county must be the first to provide the transitional housing.

Last December, DSHS officials announced that three King County sites were up for consideration in Peasley Canyon near Federal Way, in Carnation and on Orillia Road in Seatac. The Carnation site was subsequently dropped when the agency learned there was a bus stop within the 600-foot buffer around the site.

A community group called Concerned Citizens for Auburn and Federal Way hired a civil rights attorney and a land-use lawyer to help fight the location of the facility in Peasley Canyon.

At a public forum Jan. 23, Concerned Citizens presented DSHS officials with information on a homeschool and playground located across the street from the proposed Peasley Canyon site.

While state law doesn’t expressly include homeschools on the list of sensitive areas near which the sex offender facilities can’t be built, Concerned Citizens argued that it should.

Meanwhile, DSHS officials have continued looking for industrial sites, and they’ll continue to do so until they’ve exhausted the options, Williams said, adding, “It’s a long, arduous process.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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