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Is Department of Corrections siding with sex offenders?

While Governor Jay Inslee is on a media tour telling us all how much he cares about people, his Department of Corrections (DOC) is needlessly putting us all at risks, particularly children. And given the past actions of the DOC, one could reasonably wonder how much political correctness is to blame.

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Thanks to the tremendous reporting of KIRO 7’s Linzi Sheldon, we’ve discovered that after a website redesign, the DOC removed the mugshots of all their sex offenders. According to Sheldon:

After months of inquiries, the DOC posted a new ‘wanted’ page that included not only wanted sex offenders but also other wanted offenders who have been convicted of crimes and disappeared on parole.

But the new page has no photos at all.

The website lists eye color, weight, height, and race but no photos, making the site rather useless. So why no photos? It’s unclear.

After refusing KIRO 7’s multiple requests, a corrections spokesperson finally claimed the website was redone to become ADA compliant. They say the photos will be back up at some point, but Sheldon learned that there’s no actual timeline to get that done.

“Having those pictures there just makes sense,” Executive Director of the center Mary Ellen Stone told KIRO 7. “This person’s clearly demonstrated that they’re willing to hurt other people– and that– no one knows where they are. That is profoundly upsetting for victims.”

Did they take down the photos to help the sex offenders have an easier time re-entering society? I ask that because, on the surface, this seems related to a Seattle Times story from November 2016 when they reported the DOC would phase out the word “offender” because the term carries a negative social stigma:

For prisoners in classes, staff should now use “students.” And for those in the infirmary, they should say “patients.” “Individuals” is a better term, too, the department says.

The change aims to reverse negative stereotyping that follows inmates after their release, DOC Acting Secretary Richard Morgan said in a memo announcing the change this week.

“Unfortunately, what starts out as a technical term, used to generically describe the people in our care, becomes and is enforced as a stereotype,” he wrote. “This is something we can address.”

Now, both instances bring up debates that are hardly black and white.

Society has decided to release sex offenders, but we make it rather difficult for them to become productive members of society. Understandably, no one wants to live near, rent to or hire one. Having their pictures out there make it less likely that they’ll become a productive member of society again and, perhaps, those conditions make it easier to recommit a horrendous act. And there’s no doubt: the term “offender” does, indeed, have a negative stigma attached to it. So we shouldn’t ignore these valid concerns. In fact, if I had to choose a side, I’m leaning towards leaving the photos down.

But, the Department of Corrections shouldn’t act without informing the public, wanted offenders aren’t the group you want to engage this conversation with, and they shouldn’t stonewall a media outlet looking for answers. It’s not acceptable to say you’ll post photos again, but not have an actual timeline to do so.

If the DOC wants to tackle the nuanced issue of what to do with offenders, sexual or otherwise, after release, it should be done in concert with the communities they serve and the legislature that has oversight. The way they’re handling this issue is the wrong way to go about it.

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