Op-Ed: Keep Washington first in public safety
One of the most basic and essential functions of government is the protection and safety of the citizens it serves. Without good public safety laws that are enforced, the other duties of government, such as providing education, ensuring freedom of elections, and upholding individual rights, cannot properly stand.
I'm proud Washington is a state of “firsts” when it comes to public safety. We were the first state in the nation to adopt a sex offender registration law. We were the first to implement a “Three Strikes” law that puts violent criminals away for life without parole after committing their third serious felony. We were the first to take a no-tolerance policy approach by passing a “Two Strikes” law that sends repeat sex offenders to prison for life after two convictions.
These and other public safety laws have served Washington well. Our communities are safer because of it.
Since our crime rates have remained relatively low, there's been a disturbing trend the past few years in Olympia to cut corners and try to save money in the budget by increasing early release of prisoners, including convicted felons. The public would still remain safe, supporters say, because treatment programs and additional community supervision would be provided for those released early.
Now that lawmakers are facing a record state budget deficit of $8 billion, I'm very concerned public safety could take a backseat in the priorities of the new budget. For example, one proposal advancing through the Legislature would eliminate more than 200 community corrections officers. So we release criminals after they have served only 50 percent of their time — and then we eliminate community corrections officers who are providing supervision? Do you feel any safer knowing this?
The governor's proposed budget would reduce correctional officers within our state prison system, including the Monroe Correctional Complex. This is dangerous. With every correctional officer position we eliminate, more control is given to the prison population. We cannot send criminals to prison without ensuring our prisoners are secure and correctional officers are safe.
Another proposal is also very disturbing. Current law allows voting rights of released felons to be restored only if they have completed court requirements and fully paid their restitution. House Bill 1517 would remove the requirement that felons pay their court-ordered restitution before their voting rights are restored. I disagree with the approach because it places the interests of criminals higher than those of the victims.
We cannot let the pendulum swing toward such hug-a-thug programs while victims remain forgotten.
If we want to ensure our communities remain safe, public safety must be kept a priority in the state budget and in policy. That means making felons serve their full sentences. It means providing necessary supervision once they are released. It means holding offenders accountable for their crimes, and sending a clear message there will be swift and certain consequences for their criminal acts.
Let's not balance the state budget on the backs of crime victims. Instead, let's work for truth and accountability in the sentencing, confinement and supervision of offenders. Finally, let's recommit toward putting the interests of victims and families BEFORE felons. That's how Washington can proudly remain first in public safety.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.