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Forgotten Prison analyzes conditional release of woman from commitment center on McNeil Island

This file photo from 2015 shows the main entrance to Washington state's Special Commitment Center next to a fence lined with razor wire on McNeil Island, Wash.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
This file photo from 2015 shows the main entrance to Washington state's Special Commitment Center next to a fence lined with razor wire on McNeil Island, Wash.

The only woman at a treatment facility for sex offenders on McNeil Island in South Puget Sound has been conditionally released in Pierce County.

Laura McCollum, 61, left the Special Commitment Center on the island earlier this month. McCollum was profiled in Episode 2 of KNKX's podcast about McNeil Island, Forgotten Prison.

The release was ordered by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff on April 25. The order comes with strict conditions on McCollum's actions and continued treatment.


McCollum pleaded guilty in 1990 to first-degree child rape for molesting a toddler she babysat, according to court records. She volunteered to be civilly committed for treatment after serving five years in prison.

"She thought it was a place where she might be able to get treatment to stop doing what she was doing," Forgotten Prison co-host Simone Alicea told KNKX Morning Edition Host Kirsten Kendrick.

Washington state's sex offender civil commitment lawwas only five years old when McCollum entered the system 24 years ago. She was the first woman in the country to ever be labeled a "sexually violent predator."

The Special Commitment Center has been on McNeil Island since 1998, when it was co-located with a state prison on the island. It moved to a separate facility on McNeil in 2004 and has continued to operate there since the prison closed in 2011.

Unlike prison, which has a set release date, residents are committed on the island indefinitely.

"You aren't released until it's deemed that you are safe to release into the community, so you can be there decades, like Laura," said Forgotten Prison co-host Paula Wissel.


Special Commitment Center residents can be released conditionally or unconditionally. McCollum's conditional release means she is subject to a host of restrictions.

The 20-page court order outlines those restrictions. McCollum will not be allowed in the community without a chaperone. She also has a curfew and is subject to GPS tracking. Many aspects of her life, from visitors to entertainment options, have to be approved by a transition team. She will also continue to undergo treatment.

Violations of any of those conditions could send McCollum back to the Special Commitment Center.

The state Department of Social and Health Services will continue to pay for McCollum's treatment, as well as her rent and some other expenses.

Through her attorney, McCollum declined to be interviewed about her release, citing privacy concerns. But she told KNKX in November, as she was submitting her release plan, that she felt she had changed and was determined to get off the island.

"I don't want to die in this place," McCollum said. "To have this stigma and to die here too...I at least hope I'm on the other side."

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.
A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.