Thursday, May 1, 2008

Not With the Bridges Again

The practice of making sex offenders live under bridges has spread from Florida to Washington State. A sex offender who is currently being sought for cutting off his ankle monitor and going underground had been living under a bridge, because the Washington State Department of Corrections couldn't find another place for him to live. While parole officer Mary Rehburg seems to have no problem with saying that David Torrence had been ordered to spend his nights under the bridge ("Under a bridge is the best of the options we had left."), with a rain poncho and a sleeping bag, Anna Aylward, the Department of Correction's program administrator instead characterizes it as "permitting" him to live out in the open.

One of these things is not like the other. But what strikes me as interesting about this story is that the fact that Torrence was living under a bridge didn't come to light until after Westneat's column came out. While I suppose that you could make the case that where he had been living had no bearing on the fact that he'd gone on the lam, I do think the fact that the Department of Corrections is sending people to live under bridges is newsworthy, especially since as Westneat rightly points out: "It's about the worst outcome possible, for public safety." And if this is a dubious idea in Florida, it doesn't make any more sense here. Being a native of Chicago, I tend to scoff at the Seattle brand of "cold." But the rainy season here lasts for a good 6 to 8 months, and while it's not a steady downpour or anything like that, I don't imagine that it's pleasant to be out in night after night. Sounds like a sentence to death from pneumonia, or something equally unpleasant.

I suspect that sooner or later, someone is going to accuse me of having more sympathy for perpetrators than victims for advocating for a better solution. But I do think that poor work re-integrating people leads to higher recidivism rates. Sentencing people to lives of quiet desperation may make some people feel better about sticking to the "bad guys," but it's got such a poor track record, I'm amazed that anyone still sees it as a credible option anymore. News coverage tends to paint Torrence as someone who doesn't want to do his time, or is looking to re-offend. But it also seems pretty likely that he just wants to find a warm place to spend his nights.

1 comment:

JohnMcG said...

I still believe that we're going to look back one day on the way we treat sex offenders with shame.