Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New law saves taxpayers millions on sex offender costs

A new reform will crack down on what The Olympian called “runaway legal costs for violent sex offenders.”

Loopholes in the legal system allowed court cases to drag on for years, with an average cost of $39,000 per inmate every year.

Special Commitment Center, McNeil Island
Photo credit: DSHS
Lawmakers worked together to fix the system with Senate Bill 6493, which is estimated to save taxpayers $1.8 million per year on legal fees for the 280 sexual predators locked up at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

Now, these aren’t regular inmates, filing lawsuits that the state is somehow paying for out of taxpayer’s pockets.

McNeil Island is a special case, because these sex predators have served their sentences and are now confined on the island because they’ve been ruled a continued threat to society and not ready for release.

So they have legal rights, and it’s important for the state to handle court questions right – because if we don’t, these violent predators will win their cases and get out. They’ll be back in our communities and at high risk to re-offend.

The new law balances the need to handle court cases correctly – and keep violent sex offenders away from our kids and families – while ending a payment system that was out of control.

Here’s what The Olympian said about the details in the new reform:
 Among other things, the legislation:

• Creates yearly contracts with about two dozen attorneys statewide to provide legal services for sexual offenders. The contracts will replace costly hourly billing by defense attorneys, fees that were hard to track and contain.
Hourly billing was also a disincentive to bring cases to the courtroom in a timely manner. It is not unusual for continuances and delays on civil commitment trials to drag on for years. These types of delays are costly to taxpayers and clog up the court system.
• Transfers the legal costs from the state Department of Social and Health Services to the state Office of Public Defense, which should improve fiscal accountability for the program.
Under the old system, DSHS paid the fees for attorneys and expert witnesses, but had little control over the expenditures, which were authorized by judges and a maze of local officials before they reached the state agency.
In another cost-savings move, the cost of prosecuting the offenders, including state psychological evaluations, will move to the state Attorney General’s Office from DSHS. Again, this should provide better fiscal control over costs.
The changes in the process for both prosecuting and defending sexual predators was long overdue. Legal costs were averaging about $39,000 per year per offender.
That was an outrageous cost born by taxpayers, a cost that should drop significantly with unanimous passage of Senate Bill 6493.

Read the whole editorial here
Aerial view of McNeil Island
Photo credit: Dept. Of Corrections
To read this post in Spanish, click here.