Prisoners: Water causing deaths

Sex offenders on secluded island say water system contaminated

MCNEIL ISLAND, Wash. — Scores of sex offenders ordered to live on a secluded island in Washington state say the often-cloudy, brown water there is making them sick, and records show the water system has been plagued by problems for more than a decade.

About 200 residents of the Special Commitment Center have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the facility is violating their rights by forcing them to drink contaminated water that causes stomach pain and skin rashes and has been blamed for unexplained deaths.

The executive who oversees the center says the water turns brown periodically when the pipes are flushed, and he insists the cloudiness is only an aesthetic effect that causes no harm. But an Associated Press review of state Department of Health records shows that the water has repeatedly exceeded standards for various chlorine-related chemicals and has been cited for violations dating back to 2006.

Health reports say the facility’s water treatment plant has been “on the verge of failure” since 2013, and a former plant operator told health officials in 2015 that the water’s cloudiness readings were being manipulated to make the water look cleaner than it was.

J.D. McManus, who has lived at the center southwest of Seattle since 2001, said his friends on McNeil Island in south Puget Sound have contracted diseases from the water and he has suffered ill effects such as developing hives after taking a shower.

“Just because we did a crime, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have clean water,” McManus said.

The Special Commitment Center is home to the state’s worst sex offenders — those who have been deemed “sexually violent predators.” At the end of their prison sentences, the state convinced a judge that these inmates were too dangerous to be released, resulting in a civil commitment that requires them to undergo treatment that could someday make them safe enough to be released. Some have lived there for many years.

The center consists of a half-dozen buildings encircling a grassy recreational area and surrounded by multiple rows of razor-wire fencing. It holds about 225 men and one woman. Another 20 residents live next door in transitional housing.

The drinking water, also used for laundry, cooking and brushing teeth, is pulled from the nearby Butterworth Reservoir before being sent to a treatment plant and a holding tank.