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Jack Venice’s Final Destination? Investigators: Porn, Drugs Smuggled into Center for Sexual Predators

MCNEIL ISLAND, Wash. – Drugs, violent video games and child pornography.

These are just some of the items the KING 5 Investigators have found are being smuggled into the state’s center for violent sex offenders.

Washington state taxpayers spend more than $45 million a year on the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, where sex offenders are treated. But we found that the center spends a lot of energy and money combating contraband.

Learn more
Where did KING 5 get the information?

Special Commitment Center Web site

What other states are doing

Community Protection Act of 1990

In Depth : History of Special Commitment Center

Internal reports obtained by KING 5
Internal audit from November 2004

Internal audit from December 2005

Internal audit from May 2006

Internal audit from October 2007

Internal audit from August 2008

Internal audit from September/October 2008

Addendum to the September/October 2008 audit

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Why we did this story
Nearly 20 years ago Washington was the first state in the nation to pass a very controversial law: Keep the worst sex offenders locked up after they’ve served their time and don’t let them out until they’re well enough. Now 280 men and one woman live at the center.

We’ve found instead of trying to get better, many of them are watching porn and doing drugs.

Carrie Benjamin is a convicted sex offender who finished his prison sentence eight years ago.

Since then he’s been locked up at the state’s Special Commitment Center (Read a history of the center here).

The facility is a treatment center which costs the state $167,000 a year per person. That’s a lot more than housing an inmate in a state prison, which averages $33,000 a year.

Despite all that money, Benjamin is in the minority for actually taking part in the program.

An internal report obtained by KING 5 shows just 35 percent of the residents participate in the sex offender treatment, which by state law is voluntary.

“I’m a person who believes I have a problem,” says Benjamin. “Just like an alcoholic, I need to stay involved with my treatment.”

KING

Washington state taxpayers spend more than $45 million a year on the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, where sex offenders are treated.
Despite an advanced surveillance system, public records studied by KING 5 show many of the residents are busy doing drugs, getting drunk, and getting their hands on pornography.

In 2006 and 2007 staff members confiscated suspected contraband on 230 occasions.

Some examples include resident Richard Eugene Jackson. He was caught with 760 computer files with children engaging in sex acts, including bestiality. He’s back in prison for that.

By law residents must be allowed access to computers, but not to the internet.

The FBI arrested John Michael Obert after staff caught him with CDs encoded with child pornography.

Other confiscated items of contraband include cell phones hidden inside shoes, a predatory sniper video game, unauthorized Xboxes and PlayStations, videos of the sexually-oriented TV show the “Girls Next Door,” computers storing pornographic images, inappropriate magazines, bottles of pills, weapons and pictures of children – including naked babies.

How is the contraband getting smuggled in? There are three possibilities: through the mail room, from visitors or from staff.

Officials say the mailroom is now very secure and all visitors have to go through a metal detector. They also must have their bags searched.

But that’s not the case for staff members who are only subject to random searches.

Through interviews with an administrator and four former employees we’ve found corrupt staff members accepting bribes are the most likely source. Residents have money by working odd jobs on the island.

Carrie Benjamin and several other residents tell us the same thing.

“The administration, they want to point the finger at the residents and tell us we’re the cause of it when it’s not,” says Benjamin. “It’s the staff bringing the contraband and they want to restrict us.”

In the last year two staff members have quit after being suspected of bringing in drugs and porn. But in recent history, no one’s been fired for contraband smuggling.

Officials say it’s very difficult to find sources because of a “no snitch” culture at the center.

Dr. Henry Richards is the superintendent of the Special Commitment Center. He says the state is doing the best it can do.

He says monitoring contraband is also tricky because there are so many things violent sex offenders aren’t supposed to see or have.

“They range from commercials around children’s products to violent games that every teenager in the state has access to, to illegal pornographic material,” Dr. Richards said. “So that’s the range of problems we’re dealing with. It is a management issue and something we try to improve gradually.”

Eight years worth of internal audits obtained by KING 5 show experts have continually been critical of the center’s handling of contraband control.

In 2006 the experts wrote: “despite a long history of (alcohol) being brewed and consumed in the facility, (the center) is only now … developing a policy (for) random (alcohol) testing.”

They also wrote that “despite repeated instances of pornography … (the facility) has not changed any of its procedures … to eliminate the contraband.”

Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn has worked on sex offender legislation for years.

She suggests having regular citizens involved in the yearly audits.

“Because it’s the average person that can look at something and go, ‘wait a minute. What are you talking about?’” Roach said. “You mean to tell me, they’re making liquor in there? You mean to tell me they have access to porn? What’s that all about?”

The superintendent says the Special Commitment Center’s number one mission is to keep the public safe. And in that he says they are successful.

“And evidence of that is that there have been no crimes, no new victims by any resident of the Special Commitment Center,” Richards said.

KING 5 just obtained a copy of the most recent audit of the commitment center.

It gives positive marks for security enhancement for what experts call “serious contraband issues.”

But administrators of the Special Commitment Center agree much more needs to be done.

More: Curious what other states spend on their civil commitment programs? Click here.

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