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Tacoma/Pierce County Crime Warp


by oldbrickhousefarm
on 1/13/2008 @ 10:22pm
Many of you have been following the print media coverage surrounding newly created housing program grants for populations of ‘hard to place’ (a DOC euphemism for ‘dangerous’) felons, sex offenders and other offenders into Tacoma and Pierce County. The program is known as the Re-entry Housing Pilot Program or “RHPP”, and several of us living in Tacoma and Pierce County spent a good part of our holiday studying the program guidelines, enabling legislation, and other publicly-available information. In that process, we discovered what appear to be significant deficiencies in the program, which are detailed in the attached letter and summarized below:

* Program guidelines are completely silent in terms of protecting the public safety of vulnerable populations, surrounding neighborhoods, or even the returning felon population the program seeks to serve. Further, the program contemplates no staffing for law enforcement, courts, victim services or jail space to handle repeat offenders. (In essence, setting up another unfunded mandate for local governments.)
* Program guidelines do not require on-site safety and security plans and procedures, coordination and cooperation with local law enforcement, required distances from schools, child care facilities or senior centers.
* All of the proposed sites for group homes benefiting financially from these grants are within at-risk neighborhoods in the City of Tacoma (primarily the Hilltop, East Side and South End) and Pierce County (Parkland). These areas already shoulder a disproportionate share of the risk and burden associated with crime and offender overloading. Their centrality contribute significantly to our County-wide rates of violent crime, which continue to be double the statewide average.
* The largest of these (28 residents) has not paid property taxes in the last 3 years, and currently owes in excess of $15,000 (ironically, tax payments which could be used to hire badly needed law enforcement). This property has a past practice of employing convicted offenders as house managers, and is situated around the corner from a large and historic day care center.
* The Pierce County organization chosen by the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED) to receive this $1.1 million grant may not have the demonstrated operational, professional or organizational capacity to administer this type or magnitude of program.
* Through new provisions granting the program’s landlords ‘immunity from civil lawsuit’, crime victims are essentially robbed of important legal remedies afforded the average citizen.
* Pierce County stands to receive the largest grant, and accordingly, the largest share of returning offenders. Snohomish County’s bid for grant dollars was reportedly rejected. The evaluation and selection process used to make this decision has been requested via a formal public records request.
* Contrary to what you might have heard, statewide Fair Share of returning offenders is in its infancy, remains voluntary, and includes both reasonable and significant exceptions to include “sponsoring organizations”. Exceptions are reportedly granted 25% of the time, which is more than sufficient to allow Pierce County’s ‘crime warp’ to continue unabated.


In closing, we strongly support expanded opportunities for released offenders to succeed. It is also our belief that in order to minimize resulting damage to Tacoma and Pierce County's vulnerable populations, neighborhoods, and especially the returning offenders this program seeks to serve, citizens must demand superior public policy. Quite literally, lives and quality
of life are at stake. Therefore, in the attached letter to CTED, we have made a formal request for the State of Washington to suspend
this program until public safety, equitable dispersion and accountability elements can be incorporated into the overall approach to the satisfaction of local communities and their law enforcement agencies. Zina Linnik’s brutal murder this past summer is a painful reminder felon and sex offender re-entry policies must be developed with the highest levels of thoughtfulness, transparency, and accountability from both those administer and gain a financial benefit from the program.

You are encouraged to add your voice to this important civic conversation by talking with your neighbors and elected leaders. Correspondence should be directed to Juli Wilkerson, CTED Director, at JuliW@cted.wa.gov Gerry Horne, Pierce County Prosecutor, at GHORNE@co.pierce.wa.us or your elected officials, with a courtesy cc: to the below email address, so we can keep you updated on our progress with the State.

Your personal stories, opinions and networks do matter and are invaluable in encouraging improved public policy around an issue which has historically been a source of such frustration and inflicted so much damage on so many lives.

With sincere thanks,
Steve, Sally, Gina & Phil
___________________________________________________________

December 26, 2007



Juli Wilkerson, Director

Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development

P.O. Box 42525

Olympia, WA 98504-2525



Re: Critical Deficiencies in RHPP Program Guidelines



Dear Ms. Wilkerson:



We are writing to request a full review of the decision to award a $1.1 million dollar contract to provide housing to place 70 additional high risk offenders in the Tacoma/Pierce County area. The program design is inadequate to protect public safety, the housing is concentrated in neighborhoods that already have a disproportionately high level of offenders and resulting crime, and based on available data, we question whether the C4RJ organization has demonstrated the capacity and capability to oversee 70 high risk, high needs returning offenders without compromising community safety. We request that the Pierce County contract be suspended until the issues identified below can be satisfactorily resolved.



What requirements does CTED place on grant recipients for public safety, internal security plans, staff security training, coordination with local police officials, coordination with neighborhood groups, and other security measures? The program guidelines (Re-Entry Housing Pilot Project Guidelines, dated October 8, 2007 and identified in the document label as “final”) do not mention any of these issues. It is our past experience that C4RJ/Fresh Start has a practice of employing those with felony convictions, or other criminal backgrounds as house managers.



What evaluation process did CTED utilize to determine that it was possible to contract for housing for 70 high risk, high needs offenders without a public safety and security element to protect both the returning offenders and the surrounding neighborhoods?



Program guidelines should also specify how frequently Community Corrections Officers (CCO’s) are required to meet with the offenders housed with the funds in this program and how CTED determined that this is the professionally-determined level of direct supervision needed to protect people living near group homes and properties being utilized as group homes. Because of the high risk, high needs nature of the offenders being housed under these contracts, it would be logical that CTED would hold DOC accountable for providing supervision at the required level. These accountability requirements should be included in the program guidelines and contracts, along with the actions to be taken by CTED if DOC does not meet the supervision requirements.



It would be reasonable to expect public safety provisions to be required and in place to the satisfaction of local law enforcement officials before CTED awards grant funds for new placements of large numbers of returning offenders.


What analysis did CTED staff carry out regarding the location of the proposed housing, to assess whether there was already a disproportionate number of offenders living in those areas, and/or a disproportionate amount of criminal activity in those areas? This information should be readily available from the Department of Corrections (location of offenders already living in the areas) and the Tacoma Police Department (assessment of criminal activity levels). How did CTED staff factor in SOAP/SODA- or NARC-designated areas in terms of offender placement? [SOAP = Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution; SODA = Stay Out of Drug Areas; NARC = Narcotics Area]. Many offenders are prohibited by Court order from being in SOAP/SODA and/or NARC areas; how many of the proposed locations are in SOAP/SODA or NARC areas? Note that most of the housing locations are in the Hilltop, East Side and South End areas of Tacoma, areas with documented high numbers of convicted felons and sex offenders.



Similarly, CTED selection criteria should determine if these locations put vulnerable populations at risk. For example, there is a large child care center one block from the proposed location at 811 S. 11th, where 28 offenders are proposed to be housed. The current CTED program guidelines are silent on program requirements in terms of required distance from schools, child care centers and senior centers.



We request that CTED suspend this grant cycle, perform the assessment outlined above, and then contract with housing providers who can provide housing that is not located in areas with disproportionately high numbers of offenders and/or crime. Logical safeguards would include prohibiting grants for housing in certain zip codes, municipalities or Counties; distance requirements from schools, day cares and senior centers; and a limit on the number of beds in any one location to avoid overwhelming adjacent neighborhoods.



What due diligence did CTED carry out in assessing the capacity and capability of C4RJ to provide the contracted services? The C4RJ web site indicates that there are only two members of the Board of Directors, Ms. Erdyce Reynolds as Board President and Mr. Carl Jones as Board Treasurer. Thus, CTED should review Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws and Board minutes to assure that C4RJ has sufficient governance capacity and internal policies, procedures and controls in place to provide the levels of accountability for staff and board members one would expect to see with a non-profit organization serving high-risk individuals. Additionally, CTED should verify C4RJ is operating within the legal requirements of a non-profit corporation in the State of Washington through such due diligence as review of IRS Form 990’s for the past three years.



The fourteen properties proposed to be the physical locations for offenders are largely owned by absentee landlords, living in the North End of Tacoma, University Place, Olympia, Seattle and Kent. How will C4RJ oversee all of these landlords to assure that each location is being operated according to CTED requirements?



The largest property identified for housing (28 offenders), 811 S. 11th, is three years behind in paying property taxes and currently owes the City of Tacoma over $15,000 in back taxes, according to the Pierce County Assessor’s records. What is CTED’s policy regarding contracting for services with housing providers who do not pay their property taxes? In this case, grants would appear to have the effect of a tax 'bail out', and not serving their intended purpose. Similarly, a number of the other properties recently changed hands, and several show a past record of unpaid taxes. One of the houses is a former Habitat for Humanity house. CTED should independently verify (particularly given the immunity granted to landlords) that each organization and property receiving public funding is well-managed and financially sound.



Some of the pre-contract materials required from each RFP responder should include the following:



● On-site staffing levels, qualifications, plans and schedules for each location;

● The professional qualifications that the recipient organization possesses that make them uniquely qualified to administer this program in the public trust;

● Staffing levels, qualifications, plans and schedules for oversight of the daily activities of the offenders, including assurance that they attend the required programming;

● Specific staffing and qualifications to manage potentially violent or mentally ill offenders;

● Specific staffing and qualifications for the administration of psychotropic medications taken by mentally ill offenders, and how the applicant will assure that dual-disordered individuals are not inappropriately housed;

● Policies addressing how an offender’s refusal to take her/his medications will be handled.



What requirements does CTED have in place for a location where some offenders are under DOC supervision and some are not? Under current state law, DOC Community Corrections Officers can enter the unit of an offender under supervision at any time with no notice. However an offender who is not under supervision is protected by landlord tenant law. The CTED guidelines for this program do not appear to make this distinction, and the legal ramifications could be significant.



CTED allows the applicant non-profit organization the option to have the services delivered by “community partners.” This diffuses and blurs lines of accountability and will make it more difficult to assure compliance with CTED requirements. Program requirements should address this issue and make lines of accountability clear.



Organizational governance, structure, accountability and internal policies, procedures and controls are critical elements of any high-risk residential program’s success. There is a direct and profound relationship between Board proceedings, articles of incorporation and bylaws questions (see above) and the capacity of C4RJ to be held accountable—by CTED and the community--for operating the housing and the services in a way that protects public safety and actually helps offenders be successful.



Immunity from civil lawsuit: One of the most disturbing aspects of this program is the blanket immunity from civil lawsuit afforded to landlords housing felons. Although we strongly support the overall goal of expanded housing opportunities for ex-offenders, the notification and disclosure requirements contained in the program guidelines are vague to non-existent: “1. Disclose to residents of the property that he or she rents or has a policy of renting to offenders; and 2. Takes steps to report or halt criminal activity on the landlord’s premises.” There is no neighbor or neighborhood notification and no levels of accountability for criminal behavior. However, the most alarming effect of this provision is that it appears to rob crime victims of important legal remedies.



In summary, we fully understand and appreciate that individuals coming out of prison need opportunities to become successful in the community. Many of us support the general program concept and goals, as well as volunteer our time in related capacities. However, Pierce County has long been burdened by a level of violent crime double that of the rest of the state. This is due in significant measure first to the disproportionately high number of placements of returning offenders into Pierce County in general, when their county of original crime is elsewhere; and second, to the further disproportionate placement of returning offenders in the Hilltop, East Side and South End neighborhoods of Tacoma.



Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request for correction of the critical deficiencies contained within current RHPP program guidelines. It is our sincere belief that in order for individuals re-entering society to be afforded the maximum opportunity for success, while minimizing risk and damage to already saturated neighborhoods and vulnerable populations, re-entry grant programs absolutely must:



● contain a strong and clear public safety and security element;

● ensure equitable dispersion of returning offenders through the assessment process like the one outlined above;

● set standards that assure organizations receiving CTED grants to work with high-risk populations come highly qualified, committed to public safety, incorporate 'best practices' into their daily operations, and are willing and able to be held accountable to the highest levels of professional and ethical standards.



Until these elements are in place to the satisfaction of local law enforcement and the community, and applicants have provided the necessary documentation and written assurances, any Pierce County contracts related to the RHPP program should be suspended. We look forward to receiving specific answers to the questions raised above, your written assurance that these issues will be comprehensively addressed, and your plan and schedule for doing so, prior to the completion of any contract in Pierce County for the RHPP program.



In the meantime, we formally request copies of all public records related to the RHPP program (drafts and finals), including the RFP, the proposals submitted by all other potential contractors, the proposals selected by CTED, any proposal evaluation and scoring documents, the actual contract documents, e-mail, phone and hard copy correspondence, working papers and other documents, including all communications between CTED and the Department of Corrections, legislators or legislative staff, and C4RJ related to the program and any of the organizations making proposals under this program.


Thank you.

Sincerely,

Steve Apling Sally Perkins Phil Brooke Gina Eury
Tacoma/Pierce County, WA


by Erik on 1/13/2008 @ 11:00pm
Great work. Keep up the pressure. A good result is only going to be had by vigilance as it will be a big challenge to get DOC to change their ways even with the new legislation.

Also, good work in starting a blog. Of all of the blogs in Tacoma, there is not one yet dedicated to crime issues.

A blog certainly could be used to monitor the monthly felon dump by the DOC on Pierce County in comparison to the other counties to see how much, if any, progress is being made on the issue.