Law enforcement agencies have concerns over early release of up to 950 state inmates

OLYMPIA -- There are new details in the anticipated early release of nearly 1,000 Washington inmates.

Governor Jay Inslee and the Department of Correction's announcement comes after the state Supreme Court's Friday ruling that the state officials had until Monday to outline how they're keeping inmates safe. The decision also follows protests and public outcry from inmates and their loved ones.

The report outlines the plan to release between 600-950 inmates, starting in the next few days. Governor Inslee said today, despite the court ruling, this has been in the works for some time now in order to reduce the risk inside prisons.

Eight inmates among roughly 18,000 have tested positive for the virus so far, according to the report.

“This will help allow for increased physical distancing throughout the Department of Corrections' system ... to continue to reduce the risks to incarcerated individuals while balancing public safety concerns," Inslee said.

Inmates who will get early release are serving sentences for nonviolent and/or drug and alcohol offenses who have release dates within six to eight months.

But it doesn't define what crimes fit the nonviolent criteria. Some local law enforcement say, don't let that term fool you.

"The release of inmates is concerning," Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza says in a news release. "In Washington, nonviolent offenses include many assault and sexual crimes. I feel the release of these additional offenders is of great risk to public safety."

Detective Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office says he hopes the DOC will be extremely thorough with reviewing inmates history before they're released. He, like others in law enforcement, say if this large number of repeat and/or dangerous offenders is released into the community, it could be catastrophic.

"If they do a good job screening and making sure that's not going to happen, that's something that would be more acceptable, not only to law enforcement but also to community members," Troyer says.

Detective Troyer says the Pierce County Jail has also been giving certain inmates early release in response to COVID-19, but says they've been extremely selective, only picking low-level misdemeanor offenders. He says as a result, the county's crime rate hasn't been affected.

Advocacy groups and lawyers representing the inmates also take issue with Inslee's plan: they say it doesn't do enough.

"The report the state release today proves that the state is moving too slowly and too timidly to respond to this global pandemic," Columbia Legal Services lawyers said in a prepared statement. "Months into this disaster, and the DOC and the governor still have not implemented a concrete release plan."