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Originally published Friday, March 12, 2010 at 3:42 PM

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Guest columnist

Rules must change to avoid another case like Maurice Clemmons

Washington state is not willing to take convicted felons from Arkansas until the interstate compact that governs such transfers is changed to better protect the public, writes Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. The rules failed the public when Maurice Clemmons killed four Lakewood police officers

Special to The Times

PUBLIC safety is my primary responsibility, and that is why I have said for months that Washington will not accept offenders from Arkansas until the interstate compact rules that were in place when Maurice Clemmons killed four Lakewood police officers are changed.

To do otherwise would dishonor the fallen officers and their families.

I have informed the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision (ICAOS) it is our intention to make basic changes that would provide more authority to the states that receive offenders. However, the reaction I have received so far has been bureaucratic justifications for the existing rules. Instead of listening to the law-enforcement agencies that actually supervise dangerous offenders, ICAOS leaders are more interested in convincing Washington residents that the rules that applied to Clemmons should not change.

Contrary to the ICAOS executive director's guest commentary ["Pact tracks offenders, protects public," Opinion, March 11], receiving states do not have the "ultimate" authority to accept an offender from another state. In fact, the current rules give states little authority to reject out-of-state offenders and in most cases require states to receive them.

The rules also make it difficult to send offenders back even after committing serious crimes. The ICAOS rules allowed Arkansas to reject our repeated requests to take Clemmons back after he was arrested three times last year by Pierce County sheriff's deputies.

After consulting with other law-enforcement agencies in Washington and in other states, I recommended two immediate rule changes.

• First, all states should provide all available information about offenders before states agree to accept them.

• Second, the receiving state should have the authority to send offenders back when they pose a threat to public safety. These are common-sense rules that we will gladly follow ourselves for offenders that we send to other states.

I am deeply disappointed that the organization is more interested in justifying its ineffective rules than working together to improve public safety.

Our goal is not to withdraw from the interstate compact. The public is safer when offenders live in states where they have more support and opportunities. However, I cannot in good conscience follow the same inadequate rules that hampered our efforts to send Clemmons back to Arkansas and risk another heinous act.

In his commentary, ICAOS Executive Director Harry Hageman said his organization "is committed to working with all of our member states to improve public safety across our nation." I hoped that was the case, but their inaction so far indicates otherwise.

Eldon Vail is secretary of the Department of Corrections.

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