Once again, state corrections officer Tony Shaver of Vancouver has dodged a bullet from Olympia.
Under the budget the Legislature passed Wednesday, he can count on at least two more years of state funding for his program, which aims to keep the community safe from sex offenders and other released criminals through close supervision and monitoring.
Shaver is assigned to the unit that supervises convicted sex offenders released into the community in Clark County. In January, he headed to Olympia on behalf of his union, Local 313 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, to lobby local legislators on a proposal that would have changed the way the state counts the time inmates serve in court-ordered supervision after they are released from prison, a process known as “tolling.”
Under current state policy, if a released sex offender absconds, or violates terms of his release and ends up in jail, that time doesn’t count toward his sentence of supervised release and community-based treatment.
The proposed change would have let the Corrections Department count the time a sex offender spends behind bars, or otherwise out of pocket, toward fulfilling his sentence. It would have saved the state an estimated $420,000 between January and June 30.
Shaver estimated that at least 2,000 dangerous sex offenders statewide would be released from supervision almost immediately under the measure. He said it also lessened the chance that sex offenders would complete treatment.
He found a receptive ear in a meeting with state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver. The House was scheduled to take up the 2010-11 supplemental budget the following day. Probst lobbied House Democratic leaders and won an amendment to the 2010-11 supplemental budget restoring the original tolling policy.
Shaver knew he would face additional hurdles as the Legislature looked for $5 billion in budget cuts to balance the 2011-13 budget.
Sure enough, legislators resurrected the “tolling” proposal. They also proposed ending community supervision of felony sex offenders sentenced to community custody in county jails. “The intent was to get rid of felony probation for people who served time in county jail,” Shaver said.
Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5891 would have resulted in a 60 percent reduction in the state community corrections caseload, he said.
Risk to the public
A good example of those who would have been released from supervision, Shaver said, is Donnie Lee Fisher, a 46-year-old convicted Level 3 sex offender who molested young girls, and who has a record of sex offenses going back to 2003. Fisher was recently released from the Clark County Jail. Under current law, he is monitored by the Sex Offender Registration Unit of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the state Department of Corrections, and the Vancouver Police Department’s Sex Offender Tracking unit.
Like Fisher, many sex offenders sentenced to community custody continue to pose a risk to the public, Shaver said.
“The only people in our community who benefit from these proposals are sex offenders, especially the most noncompliant ones,” he wrote in an unpublished letter to the editor at The Columbian. “A large number of the most risky offenders would prefer to sit out their time in jail so that when they are released, no one can tell them that they cannot have contact with minors or engage in other high-risk behavior related to the original sex offenses, such as using alcohol and drugs.”
Shaver made five trips to Olympia and met with Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, chairman of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee. Both supported the cuts to community supervision.
“I told (Hargrove), ‘Do you realize you are talking about releasing some of the most dangerous offenders?’” Shaver recalled. “He said, ‘That’s the prosecutor’s problem.’”
In the end, Shaver got help from state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, from Probst and from Republican Reps. Ed Orcutt, Ann Rivers and Paul Harris on the House side.
Probst in particular showed his dedication to public safety by waging an uphill battle last weekend to amend SB 5891, Shaver said. The amendment spells out specifically the crimes for which community supervision is required, including sexual misconduct, and lifts the one-year limit on supervision. It also restores supervision of offenders convicted of repeated domestic violence crimes who have qualifying prior offenses.
A battle won
The House approved the amendment Tuesday on a 50-43 vote. On Wednesday, the Legislature’s final day, the Senate concurred 26-20.
“I for one appreciate Probst’s continued efforts on this front,” Shaver said. “This is at least the third time that I am aware of that he has dedicated himself to this important cause and helped to mitigate the damage to proposed reductions of community safety. His continued efforts not only hold these offenders accountable for the acts they have committed but also protect potential future victims.”