Stop Making Excuses For Failures of Seattle's Criminal Justice System

Stop Making Excuses For Failures of Seattle's Criminal Justice System

When I attended a Rainier Club luncheon on June 4, it was billed as a debate between City Attorney Pete Holmes, King County Attorney Dan Satterberg, and Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ed McKenna on the city’s criminal justice system and its perceived failures. For whatever reason, Judge McKenna was a no-show. However, Holmes and Satterberg took full advantage of the opportunity to regale us with all the reasons (excuses) that we have an open-air drug market on our City’s streets, rampant shoplifting to support the drug habit; and finger- pointed at the King County Council and the Seattle City Council as to why their hands are tied…it’s budget contraints. When asked how many dollars would be needed to solve the problem, they praised the question but had no answer.

My answer to Mr. Holmes and Mr. Satterberg is to observe that when you are pointing a finger at someone, you are pointing three fingers back at yourself. I believe some serious introspection is needed here…and stop making excuses! If the problem is a lack of money, a good administrator will have in his pocket at all times a list of steps and associated costs to fix the problem. If the problem is a philosophical one, own up to it, and defend it vigorously.

While Judge McKenna was not present to defend his position, he obviously believes that both of you are too soft on repeat offenders. Here’s several quotes from an article in My Northwest on April 24:

"McKenna told this story at a forum hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association. The forum was focused on the city’s criminal justice system and perceived failures regarding “prolific offenders” — people who move in and out of the justice system while continuing to commit crimes.”

“I had a defendant who had been charged with two counts of theft, two different cases, one from Macy’s, the other from Target downtown Seattle,” he said. “The person had a serious history of drug offenses and thefts on their history. So it was apparent to everyone this person had a drug problem. When they were apprehended in one of those cases, they had two grams of heroin in their pocket and admitted to stealing to support their habit.”

“The recommendation from the prosecutor was to plead to one of those cases, dismiss the other,” McKenna said. “And impose eight days in jail — which the person already served — and close the case. ‘Close the case’ means there are no services.”Judge McKenna did not follow the prosecutor’s recommendation. He imposed treatment on the defendant. As McKenna sees it, from his place on the bench, there is no significant effort — or an established system — in the courts to get people treatment and other services they need, which are related to the causes of crime. “The problem is we don’t have an inpatient treatment facility that I can immediately order that person into,” he said. “The only available inpatient treatment is 30 days out. So then it becomes an issue of ‘Can I ethically hold that person in custody while I wait for a bed to become available? Or do I release them on the street?’ Knowing that they are going to go right back out, steal from a store, put the needle in their arm, and be right back in my court. Some people feel it’s simply not fair to incarcerate a person because of their addiction. ”King County has a drug court. Seattle does not. The Seattle court does not prosecute drug offenses, rather it deals with offenses related to drugs — such as the theft case in front of Judge McKenna. He says that if it becomes apparent that drugs are related, he cannot forward the defendant to the county. He also says that he cannot force someone into treatment — there is no option for an in-custody, inpatient treatment facility available to the courts. As a side note, McKenna says there are 400 beds in the Seattle jail that are currently vacant. They are now being turned into a homeless shelter. He believes a better use would have been for an in-custody, inpatient facility. But it takes two, he argues. It would take a judge to order it, and a prosecutor to recommend and support it. McKenna says he cannot speak for the prosecutors.

"Rather than take McKenna’s perspective seriously. Pete Holmes and Public Defender Khandelwal's office jointly accused McKenna of improper judicial conduct. In his response, McKenna said there was nothing wrong with him speaking in public and rejected the characterization by Holmes and Khandelwal of his remarks. “Most citizens are appreciative when I provide a judge’s perspective on the criminal justice system.”