Pierce County's Own Pushback on Felons

Well before Arkansas ducked Maurice Clemmons, local prosecutors were lobbying to keep ex-cons away.

Pierce County officials, and Governor Gregoire, were understandably fuming last week over Arkansas' reluctance to take Maurice Clemmons back. Had Arkansas issued a warrant in October for Clemmons' violation of parole in that state, Washington could have denied the serial offender bail for pending charges here. Instead, Arkansas refused, and Clemmons went on to slay four Lakewood police officers. But Pierce County is no stranger to making troublesome ex-cons other people's problems. In 2007, then–Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne strongly lobbied legislators to require that people released from prison return to the county where they were first convicted, not last. That's because often the place where they were last convicted was Pierce County, which has developed a number of support programs for former prisoners. Horne, now retired, argued that it was time for other counties to step up. "The Pierce County prosecutor absolutely insisted on it because of the belief that once folks are released to Pierce County, they become Pierce County's problem forever," Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, told Seattle Weekly at the time ("Broken Home," Dec. 19, 2007). Regala, a prime sponsor of the bill, said she had reservations because many prisoners hadn't lived in their so-called "county of origin" for years, and had spouses, children, or other family elsewhere. Nevertheless, she and her co-sponsors agreed to include the provision to win political support for the bill, which passed. Granted, this law does not present the kind of public-safety issues that Arkansas' action did in the Clemmons case. But as our story showed, being forced to live away from family—and sometimes away from the best housing, counseling, and drug-treatment options—can make it harder for ex-cons to live stable, law-abiding lives.

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