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Law and Justice Council to be reinvented

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge plans to reactivate the local Law and Justice Council in response to new state law he believes attempts to transfer released prisoners’ followup care to local government.

Hauge said the statute, which was passed by the 2007 Legislature, makes an undetermined amount of followup activity the responsibility of the county where the prisoner is released.

And while some funding is provided, there are no promises as to how much or how long it will last.

“This turns us into handmaidens for the Department of Corrections in Olympia,” he said. “I’d be a lot more comfortable if they would spell out what we can expect.”

Some members of Kitsap County’s Law and Justice Council, such as representatives from police departments, the Prosecutor’s Office, courts and clerks, are mandated by law. In addition, Kitsap County has expanded the council to include representatives from schools and youth groups.

“In the past, we have been able to work with the schools to do some positive things,” Hauge said. “Now, the rug has been pulled out from under the council. We are now totally focused on adult family offenders, so representatives of the schools will need to decide whether they want to continue to participate.”

The council last met on a regular basis during the 2005 effort to pass a law-and-justice levy. In a letter mailed to all council members this week, Hauge expressed the desire to meet sometime in September.

“We have established the admirable tradition of meeting only when necessary,” Hauge wrote. "Now is one of those times. (This bill) creates substantial issues for the Kitsap County justice system. We need your help.”

The bill requires the county to create “transition networks” for released prisoners. The bill does not represent a so-called “unfunded mandate,” but Hauge said that it could become one.

“We’re being asked to help the state Department of Corrections’ local caseload and use our money to deal with their felons,” Hauge said. “They’re trying to piggyback onto our caseloads and use our money to do so.”

Hauge said released prisoners are placed into four classifications. The least serious of these, “Level D,” includesf criminals who have stolen a car or sold drugs but are generally nonviolent.

While few of these criminals move up to violent crimes, Hauge said a plurality of sentences are reduced to time served.

With no followup, these criminals find it easy to repeat the offense that got them jailed in the first place.

Hauge said even the smallest followup action, such as asking the released prisoner to check in periodically, can reduce recidivism.

To do nothing, he adds, is to break a promise government has made to the public.

“Not every felon who is released from prison is required to have any supervision,” Hauge said. “Someone who has served their entire sentence can go out the door, no strings attached.”

While he is concerned with the ability of local law enforcement resources to take on extra tasks, Hauge is also facing the same budget problems as all other county departments.

Consequently, he said the council may tell the state it cannot provide some of the requested services.

“The commissioners have been very effective at communicating that county government that county government is generally on the edge if not underfunded,” Hauge said. “We’re in the position where we need to decide exactly how much we can take on.”

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