City, County officials reveal plans to address cycle of repeat offenders

SEATTLE -- After months of study and input, city and county leaders shared their plan Thursday to manage what business leaders say has been a revolving door of repeat criminal offenders.

In February, business and neighborhood groups published a report detailing one-hundred criminals repeatedly entering and exiting the criminal justice system – seemingly without facing serious consequences for their crimes – only to see them returning to the streets to cause even more chaos.

On Thursday, city and county elected leaders revealed a series of programs they hope will reduce the number of repeat criminals with offers of counseling, treatment and shelter.

“I don’t call these solutions because I’m not sure any of us have a solution to what we see on the streets,” said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “It is worse than what it used to be.”

City and county elected leaders didn’t sugar coat it. They too see people suffering from substance or mental health issues on the streets.

“Simply going with an incarceration model is not going to cure the high rates we’re seeing,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “That’s appropriate for certain population members but it’s not going to solve the problems that we see on a larger scale on our streets.”

That’s why Thursday, the elected leaders unveiled a series of programs they believe could reduce the number of repeat offenders cycling in and out of jail.

“We must take risks, we must try new things because conventional thinking and approaches are not going to win this fight,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “They are inadequate to the challenges we face in the community.”

Workgroups have been meeting for weeks looking at why repeat offenders find themselves back on the street, and what programs could make a difference.

“Today I can announce that group has developed four new pilot programs to address the challenge of repeat offenders in our region and provide both accountability and support to individuals to disrupt this cycle,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The four pilot programs begin with expanding capacity at the King County Jail’s enhanced shelter and focusing on homeless offenders with behavioral health issues.

The second would offer planning services for offenders released from jail only one or two days after arrest and offer shelter, treatment and diversion options.

The third mandates smaller caseloads for some probation counselors who have special training in harm reduction. It also offers offenders an option to spend less time in jail if they agree to dependency treatment.

The fourth tasks the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to coordinate between programs to see if existing diversion and court methods are effective and look for gaps that let vulnerable people fall through the cracks.

Leaders say the University of Washington will be monitoring the pilot programs and their effectiveness.

Some could begin this fall, others later next year.

Both the city and county councils will have to find ways to pay for the expanded programs – because getting financial help from outside our region will be hard to come by.

“It’s going to take the city and the county working together to step up and provide the resources that are not coming from the federal government, that are lacking at the state level as well,” said Holmes.