Less Restrictive Alternative

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Less Restrictive Alternative

Residents may be transferred to less restrictive alternatives from SCC’s total confinement facility on McNeil Island.  Residents are constitutionally entitled to a yearly evaluation to determine if they still meet criteria for commitment and if an LRA  is in their best interest and if conditions can be imposed that adequately protect the community (RCW 71.09.090).  Residents may also independently petition the court to be released to an LRA at any time through their defense lawyers.             

There are multiple types of less restrictive alternatives that residents can be placed in by the court:

  1. A secure community transition facility is the statutory name for a type of LRA residential facility program operated by DSHS.  The program offers 24-hour intensive staffing and close proximity supervision by trained escorts when residents leave the facility. 
  2. Community housing is operated by a private provider, and may also offer 24-hour staffing and trained escorts. 

LRA residents of both SCTFs and community housing placements are required to follow court-ordered conditions that include sex offender behavioral health treatment and monitoring by GPS.  All residents are also closely supervised by DSHS social workers and corrections specialists from the Department of Corrections.  Learn more about LRA safety measures here.

A resident is not released on an LRA unless a court determines that release is in the resident’s best interest and the proposed conditions can keep the community safe.

LRA Treatment Program

As a condition of release, all LRA residents must continue to actively participate in a sex offender treatment program under the supervision of a court-appointed certified sex offender treatment provider. The provider is appointed by a court and must provide the court, the SCC Community Program or SCTF program, the assigned Department of Corrections Community Corrections Unit, the attorney representing the resident and the prosecutor with periodic reports on the resident's progress.

The community sex offender treatment provider, the assigned DOC corrections specialist, and the SCC Community Program social worker and when applicable an SCTF manager work as a team to oversee the individualized treatment and public safety plan for each resident. 

In addition, the SCTF programs provide a residential life skills program designed to assist each resident in attaining skills necessary for independent living, for example:

  • Budget and manage money
  • Plan nutritious meals and shop with a grocery list
  • Manage personal hygiene needs
  • Cook meals, wash dishes, keep the house clean and do laundry


Q1.  What is a less restrictive alternative?

A1.  A less restrictive alternative, or LRA, is court-ordered treatment in a setting less restrictive than the McNeil Island’s total confinement facility. The rules for an LRA are set in RCW 71.09.020 and RCW 71.09.092.

Q2.  How/why would a resident be released to an LRA placement?

A2. In most cases, a resident must first become eligible for an LRA.  To be eligible, a forensic evaluator must find in an annual review that the placement is in the resident’s best interest and conditions can be imposed to ensure community safety. The resident then petitions the court for an LRA.  The Department of Corrections then investigates the proposed placement, and files a report with the court recommending additional conditions and restrictions for the person.  The prosecutors in the case often obtain an expert to assess the plan and also offer an opinion on whether the plan is in the person's best interests and is adequate to protect the community.  All parties collaborate to create supervision conditions, and these conditions are reviewed by the court.  The superior court also has an obligation to "impose any additional conditions necessary to ensure compliance with treatment and to protect the community." RCW 70.09.096.  Note: Ultimately, courts approve the conditions and order the release of a resident to an LRA.

The exception to this process would be when a resident works directly with their defense attorney to directly petition the court for release to an LRA without a forensic evaluator’s finding that an LRA placement is in the resident’s best interest and without CEO authorization to petition the court.

Q3.  What does “fair share” mean?

A3.  “Fair share principles" and "fair share principles of release” mean that each county in Washington state should have adequate options for conditional release housing so that people granted conditional release are not placed disproportionately in any particular county. RCW 71.09.020(2) governs these principles.

Q4.  Why are residents being released to counties other than the county where they committed their crime?

A5.  The Department of Social and Health Services is required to first look for options within the county where the resident committed their crime, also known as the county of commitment.  If no options exist, then DSHS must look for housing options in other counties while considering fair share principles.  A resident’s defense attorney is not required to consider a resident’s county of commitment or “fair share principles” and may develop an LRA plan anywhere housing exists in the state.  This LRA plan must still be approved and ordered by the court.

Q5.  How are the residents monitored?

A5.  A great deal of effort goes into making sure releases of residents to LRAs are done safely.  Residents released on LRAs are subject to stringent monitoring requirements and supervision.  They are uniformly required to be on GPS monitoring.  Additionally, they are often further required to be escorted by an approved monitoring adult to chaperone them during any trips outside of their immediate residence.  All trips have to be pre-approved.  They are required to attend treatment, report in person to their supervising DOC officer on a weekly basis, submit travel plans in advance for any trips into the community, and have the destinations site surveyed by DOC.  Residents released on LRAs are also subject to a long list of court-imposed requirements related to their specific risks and offense patterns. This is a much higher level of supervision than what is ordinarily imposed upon regular level three sex offenders who are not subject to civil commitment.  If a person on LRA violates any of these conditions, they may be returned to McNeil Island.

Team Assigned

  • Residents on an LRA have a team assigned to them that consists of a DOC corrections specialist, an SCC social worker and a certified sex offender treatment provider.
  • This team meets with the resident as a team once a month or more as needed.
  • The individual members of the team have frequent contact with the resident, resulting in, at minimum, weekly contacts with the resident.

Reporting Violations

  • Each of the individuals on the team and the housing provider are required to report any violations to the court and parties involved.
  • If the resident violates a condition of their LRA as dictated by the court, SCC and DOC staff have the authority to return the resident to the SCC.
  • Violations of conditions do not mean that a resident has committed a new crime; in fact, no resident in the history of LRAs from SCC has committed a new crime.  Instead, violations of conditions could include not returning to the residence by the established curfew, looking at an unauthorized website or traveling outside of their restricted area.  Additionally, if at any time a modification to the LRA is in the community’s or the resident’s best interest, the SCC, the state, or the resident’s defense attorney can ask the court for modification to placement.  The state bears the burden of proof at those hearings.

Q6.  What happens when a resident violates the conditions of supervision?

A6.  Conditions ordered by the court are long and thorough.  These conditions, by law, are based on the needs of each resident.  Each case is managed by a team who reviews the resident’s history and monitors compliance.

The team has several options when addressing violations of any conditions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Return to McNeil Island.
  • Movement restriction to specific areas of the community.
  • Restriction to the residence other than court-mandated trips (e.g., legal, medical, therapy).
  • Therapeutic mitigation (treatment provider assigns a particular assignment or activity).

The severity of the violation will determine the response.  For any violation that presents an imminent safety risk to the community, the resident will be returned to McNeil Island.

Q7.  How long is a resident required to be under the conditions of an LRA? If it “depends,” what is the average time?

A7.  All LRA cases are under the jurisdiction of the court.  There is no set time for how long a resident must be under the court order.  Most residents at the Special Commitment Center will reside in the facility on McNeil Island and participate in treatment programs for several years before transitioning to an LRA.  The resident is allowed to petition the court for unconditional release once each year.  A resident can only be unconditionally released if they are found to no longer meet SVP criteria as explained in Question 1.

Q8.  Is there a statutory requirement to notify the public about the release of these residents into the community?   

RCW 71.09.335 requires DSHS’ Special Commitment Center to provide local law enforcement with notification of the release of a resident 30 days prior to release.  Local law enforcement is responsible for determining the appropriate level of notification to the community and whether they would like to hold a community notification meeting (RCW 4.24.550).  DOC, DSHS, the local sheriff’s department and the local police department collaborate to ensure the community is safe and has the appropriate information to stay informed.

A9  What is the difference between a secure community transition facility or SCTF and a community LRA?

A9.  Secure community transition facilities (SCTF) have specific operating and security requirements determined by law (RCW 71.09.250 through .330, and .341-.344).  Currently, there are only two state-operated SCTF facilities that meet these requirements: one is on McNeil Island (Pierce County) and one is in Seattle in the SoDo District (King County).

Community housing for LRAs is operated by private providers and may also offer 24-hour staffing and trained escorts.  The staff and any other community chaperones are all subject to background checks.

Q10.  Is there a greater attempt to depopulate McNeil Island and place sex offenders in privately run homes?

A10.  No.  There is no plan to close the total confinement facility on McNeil Island. Some residents transition from the TCF on McNeil Island to less restrictive alternatives.  Our clients have served their criminal sentence and are being held under a civil law.  In order to abide by the 5th Amendment (which states that people cannot be deprived of their liberty without due process of law), residents are entitled to a yearly evaluation to determine if they still meet criteria for commitment and if a less restrictive alternative is in their best interest and if conditions can be imposed that adequately protect the community (RCW 71.09.090).

Q11.  Is there an alternative to conditional release?

A11.  There is no alternative to a conditional release.  Based on the statue, the constitution, and case law, residents have a right to an LRA if deemed appropriate and ordered by the court.

Q12.  Why does DSHS contract with LRA providers?

A12.  Based on new changes to the law, DSHS is required to develop these housing options (RCW 71.09.097).  Note: Even though DSHS is required to develop the housing options, LRA housing providers are not required to have a contract with DSHS in order to accept individuals.  Contracts help DSHS hold contractors accountable to the conditions outlined in the court order.  Additional oversight standards and deliverables required in a contract include, but are not limited to, DSHS policy compliance, funding oversight in accordance with DSHS policy, compliance with reporting and documentation expectations, and maintenance of the environment of care.

The following questions focus on the Department of Corrections’ role in LRAs:

Q13.  What is the role of the Department of Corrections (DOC) in placing residents who are released from the Special Commitment Center?

A13.  Before the court orders any kind of conditional release to a Less Restrictive Alternative (LRA), it first orders an investigation of the potential residence.  This investigation is done by DOC.  A community corrections specialist then provides an investigative report to the court that includes a description of the land and property, its distance from schools, churches, bus stops, grocery stores, alcohol and cannabis stores, bars and taverns, day cares, parks and other public spaces of concern.  This investigative report also includes DOC’s recommendations for any conditions or restrictions for the individual being released from a more restrictive setting. Upon completion, DOC files its report with the court.

The court then decides whether the placement is appropriate and determines the final conditions and restrictions of the individual’s release.  These reports are very specific and detailed.

State agencies such as DOC do not approve or deny the placement.  This is the job of the court.  DOC’s role is to provide information to the court, including potential risk factors and recommended conditions.

Q14.  What happens before a conditional LRA is ordered by the court?

A14.  The End of Sentence Review Committee, made up of multi-agency stakeholders including law enforcement and mental health professionals, reviews the individual’s criminal history, medical and psychiatric history and treatments received to determine the initial sex offender level.  This recommendation is sent to the county sheriff’s office.  The sheriff’s office decides whether to affirm or change that level.

Q15.  How does DOC supervise these individuals once they are placed?

A15.  DOC relies on the court order to direct how the individual is supervised.  The court imposes comprehensive and specific conditions.  Individuals released on an LRA are required to be in contact with a DOC community corrections specialist.  Other conditions include:

  • Wearing an ankle bracelet continuously through the term of supervision.  These devices, called Global Positions Systems (GPS), track the location of the resident at all times – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  If the individual goes out of bounds, an alert is triggered, and DOC is immediately notified.  A community corrections specialist is on call at all times to monitor and respond to any alerts.
  • Calling their community corrections specialist when leaving and arriving to and from any destination.
  • Following a strict curfew.
  • Having itineraries for travel pre-approved and including approved routes that are monitored by GPS in real time.
  • Having all potential travel vetted and surveyed by DOC through the multi-agency Transition Team (community corrections officer, sex-offender treatment provider, mental health provider, housing provider and DSHS staff).
  • Conducting face-to-face, in-person, home and community visits.
  • Maintaining communication between DOC and the individual by phone.
  • Conducting random drug and alcohol tests.
  • Conducting periodic risk assessments of the LRA.
  • Clearly defining which contacts with individuals are prohibited, as well as approved contacts.
  • Approving all chaperones.

Q16.  What does the data say about community safety?

A16.  In the three decades LRAs have been in place, no resident has ever been charged with a sexual assault.

Q17.  What happens if an individual violates the conditions of supervision?

A17.  There are usually upwards of 50 different conditions of supervision under an LRA. Each case is managed by a Residential Community Transition Team that includes a DOC community corrections specialist.  This team reviews and monitors the individual’s compliance and has several options when there is a violation, including:

  • Returning the individual to total confinement on McNeil Island.
  • Restricting the individual’s movement to specific areas of the community.
  • Prohibiting the individual from leaving the residence except for court-mandated trips (legal, medical, therapy).
  • Making changes to the individual’s treatment plan.
  • Increasing the use of chaperones while in the community.

The severity of the violation determines the level of response.  For any violation that presents an imminent safety risk to the community, DOC will immediately return the resident to confinement regardless of whether the RCTT has been consulted.  Any time there is a violation of the court order, regardless of how severe, DOC provides a written report to the court outlining the behaviors and proposed remedy.  The court decides whether the violation should result in a return to total confinement on McNeil Island or modification of the court-ordered conditions.

Q18.  What happens if a resident escapes?

A18.  RCW 71.09.130 speaks best to this. It can be viewed in its entirety online.  Escape from LRA is a felony offense.  If a resident is found to have traveled outside of approved routes and cannot be contacted, the community corrections specialist is notified in real-time.  DOC and local law enforcement immediately begin to search for the resident.  Additionally, the county prosecutor and the civil court prosecutor are notified immediately.

Q19.  What is the average sexually violent predator LRA caseload per DOC community corrections specialist?

A19.  The caseload varies depending on resources and the location of the residents on LRA.  Community corrections specialists that supervise these cases have much lower caseloads than standard supervision. There are a total of 13 specialists assigned across the state monitoring 86 total residents.

Q20.  How does DOC distribute community corrections specialists?

A20.  Each individual DOC community corrections specialist is assigned cases based on geography.  This allows for the specialist to be more responsive to the individual residents.  For example, a community corrections specialist that is assigned primarily to Pierce County may also supervise a case out of Thurston County.


DSHS and DOC hosted a community webinar on LRAs in February 2023; to view the slides, click here.

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