Courts & Crime

7 at center for sex offenders after prison found with child porn

TACOMA, Wash. — Seven residents of the Special Commitment Center were arrested Thursdayon suspicion of having child pornography in the facility on McNeil Island.

They've all been indicted federally for possession of child pornography and have been taken into federal custody. Each faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum of 20 years.

The men, each of whom has previous sex crimes convictions and was civilly committed to the center for sexually violent predators, were scheduled to appear in federal court in Seattle.

"We want it to hopefully act as a deterrent," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan said during a press conference on the Steilacoom ferry dock. "If you are going to be involved in criminal behavior, it will be investigated."

Three other Special Commitment Center residents have previously been indicted for having contraband in the facility. Two were indicted for possession of child pornography and one for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

The 10 arrests come as part of a four-year investigation of contraband at the SCC. During the press conference, Sullivan said no employees of the SCC are under investigation related to the contraband.

"No staff members have been charged or are under investigation," he said.

Investigators are still working to determine how the residents got the child pornography into the facility. They believe some of it was delivered through the mail, officials said during the press conference.

SCC residents have access to personal computers but not the Internet, SCC officials said. SCC staff members discovered the contraband during searches of residents' rooms and seizing of their computers.

A federal judge ruled that residents could have access to computers. The residents are not given the computers, however.

"It's a big problem for the institution," said SCC Superintendent Kelly Cunningham.

He added that staff members cannot inspect the residents' mail.

The charged residents had hundreds of digital images on CDs, DVDs or on their computer hard drives, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Otake said. One resident had thousands of images.

Some of the children depicted in the images have been identified with the help of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One series of pornographic images involved a child in Eastern Washington, Otake said. The exploitation aspect of that case has been charged.

Cunningham said the seven charged residents were in different stages of treatment. Two had refused to participate in treatment.

Residents of the Special Commitment Center are civilly commited to the facility after serving prison time for their crimes. Residents can graduate from the facility if they participate in the treatment program.