Does jail time only exacerbate Seattle’s problem with repeat offenders?
A recent report found that 100 repeat offenders were responsible for a significant amount of Seattle crimes, and appear to be moving through a revolving door in the King County criminal justice system.
“For a long time, there has been a group of people who chronically engage in behavior that’s problematic, and the solutions that are brought to bear on that are not effective. So that’s not a new problem,” she said.
While the report in question tracked 100 people, Daugaard says the actual numbers of similar prolific offenders is likely much greater.
“I would estimate that based on work that King County did a few years ago that we’re talking about at least 1,500 to 2,000 people primarily in the city of Seattle, who in the last several years have fit that profile.”
Those 100 offenders in the original report combined for 3,562 criminal cases in the State of Washington, 1,612 misdemeanor cases in Seattle Municipal Court, and 636 total bookings into King County Jail in the last year. The question is why this is happening.
“I would say that to a significant degree it’s because the criminal justice system isn’t the right system to respond to this set of behaviors to begin with. Almost all seem to be affected by serious behavioral health issues, or substance use disorder, other mental health issues, or both. And all were homeless,” she said.
“Their behavior is problematic, but it is driven by health conditions that we know do not respond well to the solutions that the criminal justice system has to offer.”
Daugaard says simply locking such people up exacerbates the conditions that drove them to engage in such behavior in the first place, and doesn’t ultimately make society safer. She cites programs like LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), a collaboration between law enforcement and community groups that addresses low-level drug and prostitution crimes, and diverts offenders into community-based treatment and support services.
“The bottom line is that there are interventions that are effective with people who are really struggling with very chronic long-standing issues with substance use, issues with mental illness,” she said. “The health-based interventions that reach those people can be very effective. Right now we do not have a strategy for reaching those people.”
“Folks are not wrong to want to be safe and to want these problems dealt with, and I would urge that people demand that it be done in an effective way. Relatively short-term stays in jail are the opposite of that.”
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