King County public defenders: Plan for prolific offenders ‘compounds the problem’
The King County Department of Public Defense spoke out Monday against a recently-proposed plan from local leaders to deal with its most prolific repeat criminal offenders.
On Sept. 12, King County and Seattle leaders announced the creation of a work group comprised of police, judges, prosecutors, public health officials, and more to address prolific offenders at a local level. That came alongside four pilot programs, that county public defenders said “failed to recognize our clients need more community-based services … and less of the criminal legal system.”
“We know that when we look to the criminal legal system to provide answers to those issues, we end up only compounding the problem and harming the very people who most need our help,” DPD Director Anita Khandelwal said in a news release.
Khandelwal — who herself participated in the work group — described each pilot’s relative failures in addressing the needs of repeat offenders that frequently cycle through the justice system.
She instead advocated for “stable, long-term housing and community-based mental health” as the most viable solutions.
“Strengthening our communities begins by valuing every person, regardless of where their struggles have led them,” she described. “Mitigating the crushing effects of poverty, homelessness, past trauma, and behavioral health disorders is an enormous challenge that does not yield to quick fixes.”
Proposals for prolific offenders
The four proposed programs include enhanced probation that could involve probation counselors offering less jail time if the offender will go to treatment. Khandelwal described that as “completely contrary to everything we know from our years of work within the system.”
Another pilot program would create a position for a dedicated re-entry planner at the jail to help these offenders connect with services and get into shelter when they’re released, something she labeled as antithetical to the need for less reliance on the criminal legal system.
The third pilot program will be a 60-bed, 24/7 enhanced shelter, where people can get behavioral health treatment, case management, and more. For this, Khandelwal noted that while it was “an important step” toward getting people off the street, it’s still a half-measure if it doesn’t ultimately connect people to long-term housing and ongoing services.
The final program involves case conferencing, which Khandelwal said “could be a positive approach,” but for the DPD, still represents another ill-advised investment in the criminal justice system.