Should criminals be returned to originating cities?

Policy likely keeps more crime, homeless in Port Orchard

Where should prisoners be released—from the jail or prison they are in, or back to their last known residence?

That question is again being debated after Richard Taii of Puyallup was released from the Kitsap County Jail in Port Orchard and just a few hours later was shot and killed by a local man. If it had been from a state facility, he would have been returned to Pierce County.

It was 8:53 p.m. Jan. 9 when Taii posted bond and was picked up from jail by two women, one his girlfriend, court records say. Taii was found dead just a few hours later with a gunshot wound to his head after 39-year-old Chad Wilson suspected Taii of stealing his mail and shot him, reportedly in self-defense.

The following morning, police apprehended Wilson, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. At least one piece of mail was found in the vehicle Taii was in.

The circumstances left some wondering why Taii, who appeared to be engaging in criminal activity following his release, was allowed to go free within the city instead of being returned across the water.

In an email chain obtained by the Kitsap Daily News, Mark Morgan posed these concerns to the Port Orchard City Council, Mayor Rob Putannsuu and police chief Matt Brown, noting the potential for criminals congregating in the city.

“Currently criminals are brought to the Kitsap County Jail (in Port Orchard) from the cities of Bremerton, Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island, Gig Harbor, and the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish Tribes,” he writes. “Once they serve their time, they are all released onto the streets of Port Orchard.”

Citing the previous year’s Point in Time count of homeless people, Morgan argued a good number of prisoners being released from the jail will be homeless, which he believes is causing both an increase in homelessness and crime in the city.

He also cites state law, which requires inmates at state facilities to be released to their county of origin.

“I feel that we need a similar policy within the county,” Morgan writes, adding jurisdictions that bring their criminals to the jail in Port Orchard “should pick them up and return them to their original jurisdiction for release.”

Brown said Morgan’s complaints are not unjustified, but it’s out of his control. “We don’t run the jail, and American citizens can go where they want to go when they’re released,” he said. “We can’t just demand that of the county sheriff.”

The jail provides vouchers for things such as public transportation for freed inmates to return to their jurisdictions, even though they are not legally obligated to. For example, inmates headed to Bremerton can receive a ferry pass, followed by a bus pass to wherever in the city they need to go. An inmate can have a cab paid for to transport them to their destination as well.

They also have the right to decline these services or not use the passes at all, leaving some to wander the city streets near the jail. Jennifer Walters, who lives near Sydney Avenue, said one of her nearby neighbors found an unpleasent surprise in his house.

“We did have a situation here down on Harrison where a neighbor came home and found a newly released person in one of his beds,” she said.

She said because she doesn’t live directly on Sydney, she does not encounter newly released inmates nearly as much, but she has seen them on occasion walking down Sydney at night time when public transit and ferries are shut down for hours.

Morgan said lawmakers in the city and county have to fix this. For too long, he said, “It is the city of Port Orchard that is paying the price.” Morgan said he’s received little to no response from government about his complaint, which also concerns him. “The response I get is that no other county has a policy like I am proposing. That is no excuse, as far as I am concerned. The state solved the issue at the state level. It is time for someone to step up and solve it at the local level.”