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Washington Leads Nation As Net Importer Of Out-Of-State Parolees

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend 2009. Maurice Clemmons, an Arkansas felon living in Washington, walks into a coffee shop and guns down four Lakewood police officers. Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer described the scene as "more of an execution.”

The killings turned a spotlight on a little known agreement between all 50 states to keep tabs on each other’s parolees when they move across state lines. The Interstate Compact, as it’s known, was born out of another tragedy: the 1999 rape and murder of a woman in Colorado by a convict from Maryland.

The Interstate Compact was designed to keep the public safer. But the murders of the Lakewood officers revealed flaws in that system. In the aftermath of the killings, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire aimed her anger at Arkansas, saying “I don’t want to accept, under Interstate Compact, anymore individuals from Arkansas until this gets sorted out.”

Three years later Washington is once again accepting Arkansas parolees -- along with 3,000 other out-of-state parolees who have moved to Washington since the killings.

But here’s the bigger picture. For every one Washington offender who’s supervised in another state, Washington takes in three parolees from elsewhere. No other state had such an imbalance.

By contrast Oregon and Idaho are net exporters of ex-cons with many of them coming to Washington. Attorney Jack Connelly represented two of the families of the slain Lakewood officers. He says the trend in Washington is a concern.

“We’re bringing in violent people and the state that is sending them here is more than happy to get rid of them and make it our problem.”

So why does Washington receive so many out-of-state offenders and send so few elsewhere? Anmarie Aylward, Assistant Secretary with the Department of Corrections and the state’s Interstate Compact commissioner, says one key factor is recent budget cuts.

“We have decreased the number of offenders we supervise significantly so we don’t have the numbers to export, ” she says.

So why not just hang up a no vacancy sign to new out-of-state parolees? Aylward says that would essentially get Washington kicked out of the compact.

“Certainly we want to have the ability of knowing what offenders are coming into our state and where our offenders are going. And the compact gives us that ability.”

Since the Lakewood killings, Washington officials have made it tougher for out-of-state offenders to move here. Also new national rules make it easier to send misbehaving parolees back to the sending state. Washington has done that 32 times since last year.

But even that doesn’t guarantee public safety. Consider a tragedy last Christmas Eve when a Seattle teacher died after being brutally beaten outside her home. Police suspected her boyfriend.

That boyfriend -- who faces trial next year -- was Johnnie Lee Wiggins, a parolee from Georgia. He moved to Washington after serving time for assault. Then Wiggins was returned to Georgia for violating his parole here.

But Anmarie Aylward with the Washington Department of Corrections says that didn’t stop Wiggins from coming back to Washington without authorities in either state knowing.

“He returned and wasn’t under supervision with us at the time, wasn’t under the compact, but I don’t know if that matters to people who have lost somebody in their family or their neighbor.”

Records show there are currently more than 500 active arrest warrants for interstate compact offenders who have disappeared from supervision or violated their parole while living in Washington.

On the Web:

Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision

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."