Legislature wise to trim defense cost of sex predators

The legislation should bring transparency and accountability to a system in which the state had no control.

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State lawmakers' handling of the current budget mess isn't making them many friends.

But let's give the Legislature praise for taking action that should save the state nearly $2 million a year by reforming the way the state manages legal-defense costs for dangerous sex offenders.

In addition, it brings accountability to a system in which the state had no control.

The Seattle Times found Washington has been spending $12 million annually for the defense of these offenders.

The legislation approved would centralize oversight of defense costs. It would limit the amount spent defending sex offenders and would transfer their legal costs from the Department of Social and Helath Services to the state Office of Public Defense.

Sexual predators are a blight on society. They are also a financial drain to state government.

In Washington state, it has been decided that sex offenders who have served their prison sentences can be held indefinitely if they are deemed a high risk to reoffend. Keeping these sexual predators locked up is incredibly expensive.

First, there have to be legal hearings. Proving they are high-risk offenders is -- and should be -- very difficult for the state. The state's legal costs, given taxpayers are paying for prosecutors and defense counsel because most offenders have little money, are staggering.

The Seattle Times found the DSHS pays for the legal and expert costs, but has little control over them. Local judges authorize expenditures, then invoices pass through a statewide web of county officials and end up at DSHS for reimbursement, according to The Times. As a result, the state could not monitor spending.

There are, of course, other costs. Since no community in this state is willing to accept 285 high-risk sex offenders, they are housed on McNeil Island And since the sex offenders are legally patients rather than inmates, the state has to house them in a facility far nicer than a prison.

The state spent $52 million building the Special Commitment Center specifically to comply with the court order. On top of that, the state pays $42 million a year to operate the island facility.

The state could save $64 million a year by simply giving the sex predators their freedom.

But would that really result in saving money? When the predators strike again, there will be more court costs to prosecute and defend them as well as put them in prison.

Far worse, there will be many, many victims and their families left with emotional and/or physical scars.

If we as a society want to keep these predators isolated from society, there is a price that must be paid.

Lawmakers did the right thing in taking action to responsibly reduce those costs.

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