By MADELYN FAIRBANKS
OLYMPIA -- A bill that would allow certain criminal offenders to say goodbye to their community supervision made it through another one of the Legislature's hoops this week, but concern about the measure remains.
At the bill's first hearing in the House, Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, supported the bill "with some discomfort," but felt that if the Legislature must make cuts in the Department of Corrections, supervision of low- to moderate-risk offenders would be the right place.
Lawmakers, facing an $8 billion budget deficit, are looking for ways to save money.
The bill's original sponsor, Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, estimates the cost savings to the state to be roughly $40 million for the next biennium, with $1.5 million in savings for the current biennium if the Legislature moves quickly enough.
"This measure, if enacted, will have some level of adverse affect on community safety," Pierce said. "But other places would have a much more significant impact on the community we're sworn to protect."
Senate Bill 5288, which would lower the number of criminal offenders on parole or probation, reflects suggestions made by the governor to reduce the growing budget deficit by making cuts in the Corrections Department.
The current, revised bill would eliminate supervision of low- and moderate-risk offenders unless they were convicted of a violent offense, a crime against a person, or ordered to chemical dependency treatment.
Their supervision would be terminated after six months if they have not reoffended.
Those offenders categorized as high risk, or low to moderate risk convicted of a sex offense, would still be supervised.
Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, is concerned that the bill doesn't address the issue of domestic violence seriously enough.
"I will be looking very closely to the areas of gross misdemeanants with relation to domestic violence," Dammeier said.
Under the current wording of the bill, gross misdemeanants would not be supervised by parole or probation.
There are 4,300 gross misdemeanants who would be unsupervised under SB 5288.
"I'm sensitive to the fact that we need to protect" domestic crime victims, Dammeier said.
Some domestic violence offenders are put in the high-risk or gross misdemeanant probationer category -- under current law, these types of offenders are under supervision by a corrections officer.
SB 5288 would eliminate their supervision completely.
Hargrove said changing the bill so that these specific levels of domestic violence offenders would be supervised would cut the majority of the state's potential savings.
"We looked at that, and I believe that such a large percentage of those, if you included all domestic violence offenses, your savings would drop to about $10 million," Hargrove said.
"In other words, it's a huge chunk of that bottom category, so it was a very big moving piece."
Although some domestic violence offenders won't escape supervision because their relative threat to the community will put them in a high-risk to reoffend category, Ginger Richardson, a community corrections officer in King County, is concerned that their convictions, and therefore their categorizations, won't accurately depict the seriousness of their threat level.
"It's usually about the fifth or sixth time that (domestic violence victims) finally call the cops, that they go forward with filing charges.
"They've got to survive, they've got kids, things like that," Richardson said.
Richardson also worried that with the elimination of supervision for some domestic violence offenders who are categorized as misdemeanants by having pleaded down their charges, corrections officers would have no way of enforcing the offender to go to treatment.
"Many just wouldn't go," Richardson said.
The cost-savings would ultimately mean a big job loss for community corrections officers.
Eldon Vail, secretary of the Department of Corrections, estimates that nearly 300 jobs would be lost.
"Primarily how to save money will be laying off staff," Vail said.