Washington state Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said Friday that 19, of those offenders are in this state.
Today of those live in Walla Walla County: Seven sex offenders here are listed as homeless. Some of those, almost all low-level offenders, live in an ordinary-looking house in the Eastgate area on a block largely surrounded by businesses.
The house was founded in under the STAR — Successful Transition and Re-entry — Project, as a way to get previously-incarcerated sex offenders on track outside of prison. Or, as Field puts it, away from reoffending. And only a minority of those are folded into a community supervision program, officials say. By law, except in specific circumstances involving victims, sex offenders are required to return to their home counties when they leave prison, said Walla Walla Police Chief Scott Bieber.
About 15 percent also must check in with the state Department of Corrections as part of an oversight program. While on community supervision, registered sex offenders must reside at least feet away from schools if their crime was against a child or children. That said, when sex offenders have met their legal mandates, the state of Washington has no requirements regarding where a registered sex offender must live, Bieber and other local officials said.
Ben Brink is the community corrections supervisor for the Walla Walla Community Corrections field office of the Department of Corrections, where he oversees a staff of eight officers. His office serves Walla Walla and Columbia counties, Brink said, and about 10 percent of actively-supervised offenders within that area are registered sex offenders. Like many former felons, released sex offenders struggle to find employment and housing. The greater population of sex offenders is couch surfing, or living with a family member.
Others wander the streets, looking for a doorway to sleep in, Brink said. Those factors make life unstable and make the community less safe.
That can lead to crisis, he added. Finding home Shelter is a basic human need; Walla Walla already has a tight rental market and people get desperate — imagine being the registered sex offender competing in that market, he said. Having housing in place allows the Department of Corrections to release the offenders at the earliest possible date, saving a lot of taxpayer dollars, according to Brink.
When residents call, he and his staff listen to and validate concerns, he said. As well, officers work to share what information they can to alleviate community fear. He also encourages people to be watchful and never hesitate to report anything out of the ordinary.
Burglaries and thefts to feed a drug habit kept a younger Field, now 49, in numerous county and state jails. He began cleaning up his life by enrolling in Walla Walla Community College, where he graduated in with honors and as the commencement speaker. Next Field attended Walla Walla University, leaving with a major in sociology. It was while working toward degree completion Field said he became more aware of the hurdles sex offenders encounter after prison — and the price communities pay when those issues go unaddressed.
He was working at STAR Project at the time, and then-executive director Glenna Awbrey strongly supported the idea of a house dedicated to serving sex offenders. More from this section.