State Law Kept Runaway Sex Offender on the Streets

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As I write in this week's issue, many former prisoners become homeless because they have no place to go, raising concerns both about their welfare and the public's. It turns out, though, that there was a place for one notorious sex offender to go. It's just that a bizarre state law didn't allow it.

Last April, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) relegated sex offender David Torrence to a spot under a Snohomish County Bridge. In a startling Seattle Times column, Danny Westneat wrote that DOC's decision to place him there followed strenuous efforts to find him housing, all met with hostility to having sex offenders on the premises or even in town.

While undoubtedly true, the state runs a pilot program that offers housing to just such high-risk offenders. One hundred and sixty beds are available in King, Clark and Spokane counties through the the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. According to Anne Fiala, a DOC regional administrator, Torrence was ineligible for this housing because he had to live in Snohomish County upon release from prison. That's due to a law passed a couple years ago that attempted to placate a lament by Pierce County that it was a dumping ground for ex-cons. The law requires prisoners to return to the county where they were first arrested, no matter if they and their families had long since moved on--or even, as Torrence's case shows, if the public would be safer with them elsewhere.

"We are not going to be using the [pilot program] to go against the law," Fiala says. The state probably won't have that choice anyway after June, which is when the funding for the pilot program runs out.

After living under the bridge for a few nights, Torrence cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and ran. He turned himself in a month later.

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