Domestic violence victim advocates express concern over release of inmates

SPOKANE, Wash. — Inmates are being released back into the community under Governor Jay Inslee’s orders to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

These inmates committed “non-violent” crimes, but domestic violence victim advocates are concerned with how quickly this is all happening and what it could mean for victims.

Though the inmates committed non-violent crimes, advocates are concerned that they are committing a crime that affects victims’ safety: That’s the violation of a no contact order.

“It’s terrifying to the victims and for many victims. Getting that no contact order is the first chance in their lives for them to stop and take a breath and gather their thoughts and figure out what they’re going to do,” said Sgt. Jordan Ferguson, with Spokane Police Department’s domestic violence unit.

If a person violates three no contact orders, under Washington law, that’s considered a non-violent felony and that person could be released from jail or prison in this case.

“Just because a person’s convicted of a non-violent crime, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a non-violent crime,” Ferguson said.

Advocates say they don’t know if these inmates behavior improved with their time in jail or prison.

“That would’ve been a little bit of a relief, if we knew the people being released are ones that have participated in self-help programs,” Ferguson said.

That no contact order is supposed to give a victim peace of mind, but there is no way to know if something will happen once those criminals are released.

“It presents itself as a disregard for authority and disregard for that other person, right, for the safety of that other person,” said Annie Murphey, the executive director of the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition.

The Department of Corrections released the names and crimes of inmates getting out. On that list DOC listed the inmate’s most serious crime. However, Ferguson knows for some of those inmates, it’s not their only crime. They could have other charges relating to domestic violence.

Another concern is for those getting released early, some may still need that mental and emotional help.

“When people having been incarcerated for a long time, there’s an adjustment phase that happens. So, we’re releasing people into a time of a pandemic, just the environment is really different and people need support, they need to be able to access their mental health services and domestic violence perpetrator treatment classes and get to any other services they need,” Murphey said.

Going back into the community now, during a pandemic, can also create a lot of stress.

“If they have substance use disorders that you know of are coming home to an environment where they can’t get support and remain sober, right? Some of those things also perpetuate violence inside a home where people are unstable,” Murphey said.

There is a way for victims to know if their abuser is being released. They can find out through a website called Vinelink.

“We want all victims to sign up with that so they at least have a head start,” Ferguson said. “Our other concern is there are many other cases where it was a plea agreement with the prosecutor to be guilty with a nonviolent felony, when in reality the crime they committed is incredibly violent, and it’s just, you have a victim that’s terrified to testify and so the prosecutors can’t put a case together.”

Regardless of this pandemic, help will always be there.

“We will not let up and we will keep our relentless pursuit on anyone that violates court orders, because we want that victim to feel safe. We want those kids to grow up in a safe environment,” Ferguson said.

These domestic violence resources can be reached at any time by text or phone calls:

Domestic Violence Resource Numbers Full

RELATED: Wash. DOC publishes list of inmates being released to slow spread of coronavirus

RELATED: Washington DOC plans to release inmates to limit COVID-19 spread in jails

READ: Gov. Inslee suggests it’s unlikely Washington will be ready to reopen by May 4

Other ways for victims to check the status of an inmate is to call 1-800-322-2201 or by email to docvictimservices@doc.wa.gov.

The Office of Crime Victims Advocacy said local prosecutor’s offices will also work to let crime victims know if their offenders have been released.