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Wash. Faces Lawsuit Over Treatment Of Disabled Sex Offenders On McNeil Island

Elaine Thompson
The Special Commitment Center (SCC), housing convicted sex offenders, lies within the walls of the prison at McNeil Island, but serves as a separate facility, is seen Feb. 5, 2003, at McNeil Island, Wash.

Mentally disabled sex offenders housed on McNeil Island are not getting the treatment they deserve. And, in some cases, they are being held in isolation. Those allegations are contained in a lawsuit plaintiffs say they will file today in federal court.

Disability Rights Washington is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of disabled residents of Washington’s Special Commitment Center, a treatment facility that houses sexually violent predators who have been civilly committed after completing their prison sentences.

According to the lawsuit, residents with serious mental illness, brain injuries and other conditions are often not able to participate in sex offender therapy because of their disabilities. As a result, the lawsuit alleges, they are consigned to “back-wards” of the facility and sometimes locked down 21 hours a day.

“These residents have been forgotten, languishing in the facility for years, if not decades,” reads the lawsuit. Disability Rights Washington has previously sued the state’s psychiatric hospitals to force better treatment of developmentally disabled patients.

More recently, Disability Rights worked with the state prison system to create a specialized unit for prison inmates with cognitive conditions. According to the lawsuit, it costs more than $150,000 a year to house someone at the state’s Special Commitment Center.

In a statement, Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services says it has submitted a budget proposal for next year requesting money to create new programs to serve mentally and developmentally disabled residents at the SCC.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.