Tuesday, January 27, 2009

McNeil Island

Washington State's McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) is located in southern Puget Sound. McNeil Island is reached by a 20-minute boat ride on one of the facility's passenger vessels.
The main prison facility houses medium-custody offenders in five living units and a segregation unit. It is located on approximately 90 acres and is within walking distance of the island passenger dock.

In 1976, the U.S. government made a decision to close the federal Penitentiary that had operated on McNeil Island since 1875. In 1981, the state signed a lease agreement allowing it to use the Penitentiary, renamed McNeil Island Corrections Center. In 1984, the island was officially deeded to the state of Washington.

In 2000 McNeil Island had a population of 1,500 residents. The majority of the residents are incarcerated in MICC prison while several hundred are civilly committed to Special Commitment Center (SCC), discussed below. There are about 40 families and about 100 people that live on the island. The non-incarcerated families have at least one family member employed at MICC. There is no commerce or stores on the island and access to the island is strictly controlled by the Department of Corrections making it the most exclusive island in the entire Puget Sound.

While under federal authority, the prison's most famous inmate was probably Robert Stroud, the "Birdman of Alcatraz" who was held there from 1909 to 1912. Chicago gangster Al Capone was transferred to Alcatraz from McNeil Island in 1934. Charles Manson was an inmate from 1961 to 1966 for trying to cash a forged government check. Shortly thereafter he went to California and engaged in "helter skelter," including murder.

Also located on McNeil Island is the Special Commitment Center (SCC)for confinement of "sexually violent predators" (SVP) which is operated by the Department of Social and Health Services. "Residents" are committed for treatment after completing their standard prison sentences.

Under Washington's civil-commitment law for sexually violent predators, a jury has to decide whether the offender is mentally ill and unable to control his sexual behavior, making him likely to engage in predatory sexual violence. If committed, inmates at SCC can seek periodic reviews to determine if they can be released, but they would invariably have to admit to their sex crimes and seek treatment. I've represented a couple of clients committed at SCC and have ridden the ferry and bus to visit them.

Convicted rapist Kevin Coe is to be locked up indefinitely as a danger to the community even though he has already served his full 25-year prison sentence. Coe served his time for the lone conviction among what prosecutors described as dozens of sexual assaults in Spokane's South Hill neighborhood, starting with a fondling case in 1966 and escalating to violent rapes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. (See my post about "Candy Rogers").

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