There's talk in the Legislature of moving McNeil Island’s sexual predators to the mainland.
Lawmakers including Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam have discussed the possibility of relocating the Special Commitment Center. But Hargrove threw cold water on the idea’s chances Friday.
“I don’t think it’s very likely to happen,” said Hargrove, the Democratic chairman of the Human Services and Corrections Committee.
A possible new location is a facility in Grand Mound where the state is about to close a juvenile lockup, Maple Lane School.
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The idea came up when Hargrove talked to Lewis County lawmakers about what to do with the site, he said. Lawmakers from the county want an inmate processing center there, but at least one, Republican Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester, also is open to the idea of relocating the Special Commitment Center to the site.
Swecker liked the idea of replacing the jobs being lost with the closure of Maple Lane, but questions remain. “My big concern is if the security was adequate to address that population,” he said.
Hargrove said the state could save money by moving the sex offender center, helping dent a $5 billion state shortfall. It’s expensive to run an island detention center, especially now that the prison that shares the island is closing and its cheap inmate labor is going away.
The upside of the island location, of course, is avoiding the not-in-my-backyard outrage that is sure to flare up anywhere that is considered for a new home.
The center is home to 280 so-called sexually violent predators who are deemed by judges to be so dangerous they must be confined even though they’ve completed their prison sentences.
Republican Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood said the talk vindicates his long insistence that the Special Commitment Center won’t be able to survive alone on the island once the prison is gone. He has worried it could move to Western State Hospital’s campus in Lakewood.
But Hargrove maintains that the prison closure still pencils out as a savings to the state. Moving the sex offender lockup to the mainland would be an extra savings beyond that, he said.
The Corrections Department will save an estimated $12 million per year by closing the prison, but lawmakers added $5.6 million to the budget of the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the commitment center. Some predictions show larger costs.
The cost of any move would have to factor in the expense of finding and approving a new site that would surely face local scrutiny, DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley said.
Special Commitment Center administrators planned to put out a message to employees Friday saying they are not preparing for a move and they plan to take over island infrastructure as expected April 1, Shapley said.
“It is not on our agenda,” Shapley said. “It’s not in our playbook. It’s not our Plan B.”
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org