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Seattle council cuts Mayor’s probation pilot for high barrier (prolific) offenders

Mayor Jenny Durkan discusses four proposals for addressing prolific offenders. Also picturd are King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. (KIRO Radio, Hanna Scott)

The Seattle City Council is nearly done with its 2020 budget work. The bulk of the changes to Mayor Durkan’s budget proposal are done with a final budget vote set for Monday.

Among those changes? Cutting the $170,000 Durkan allotted for a new enhanced probation pilot for high barrier [prolific] offenders. The probation pilot was one of four Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine and others announced in September to try and address the issue of prolific offenders, based on recommendations of a task force created following a February report from the Downtown Seattle Association which highlighted 100 repeat offenders responsible for much of the city’s low level crime.

The Seattle City Council had concerns with the probation pilot from the start and early in the budget process leaned toward placing a proviso [hold] on the funding until the Seattle Municipal Court came back with a report on the specifics, intent and implementation of the program.

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That proviso remains in the budget, along with other holds on funding for two of the other prolific offender pilots – a jail re-entry pilot to help offenders in jail 72 hours or less come up with a plan and connect with services on their way out the door, and a case conferencing pilot to coordinate the various departments and services dealing with the offender.

But unlike those latter two pilots, the council approved a full blown cut of the funding for the probation pilot this week. The cuts were recommended by Councilmember Lorena Gonzales, who made her concerns with the program clear early in the process.

“I continue to believe that it is not the best use of our dollars nor that it will actually address the needs of individuals who have many complex co-morbidities,” Gonzales said at a recent budget meeting referring to mental health and drug addiction issues.

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“Investing further in a probation model that ultimately leads to a result of going to jail if you do not comply is not the wisest investment for us,” Gonzales added – pointing out the money could be spent on other programs proven to work with so-called prolific offenders, such as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

While the LEAD program is getting a massive funding increase in this budget, Gonzlaes’ proposal for the $170,000 pulled from the probation pilot is less specific.

In recent weeks several Seattle Municipal Court judges came to council chambers to try to clarify that the intent of this particular probation model was not to lock more people up, but rather an option they desperately needed to avoid putting more people in jail. Without this program several said they’d have no other alternative than to send some of these “prolific offenders” to jail.

The mayor’s office admits it is disappointed. “The City Council is supporting the majority of the Mayor’s proposed investments to address the challenge of high barrier individuals. The complex intersection of behavioral health, substance use disorder, and the criminal justice system require a comprehensive approach. We believe enhanced probation would have provided the City of Seattle another critical tool,” said Durkan spokesperson Mark Prentice.

Also disappointed, the Downtown Seattle Association, who stated “We were hopeful that council would keep all of the mayor’s pilots in the budget. We’re going to need everyone at the table for meaningful, systemic progress,” said DSA’s James Sido.

Sido confirms news of the council cutting funding for the probation program comes as data shows 90 of the 100 “prolific offenders” featured in their February report have re-offended since.

Here’s the breakdown: 90 of the 100 have been booked again since mid-Feb, 264 additional bookings since mid-Feb, 1 person 9 times, 1 person 8 times, 3 people 7 times, 3 people 6 times, and 8 people 5 times.

A final vote on the budget is expected Monday afternoon.

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