Washington’s McNeil Island – Civil Commitment Center

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By Emily Gillespie…

A small island in the state of Washington houses a group of unlikely residents: they are all men the state considers its most dangerous sex offenders.

McNeil Island, nestled in Puget Sound, is unpopulated except for the 214 people who live at the special commitment center, a facility for former prison inmates. All men have served their sentence and yet, due to a controversial legal mandate, they remain confined indefinitely.

The only way on and off the small island is a passenger-only ferry, which makes the 15-minute trip every two hours. The ferry docks at a defunct prison on the island and a bus takes employees and visitors to the facility a few miles inland. Along the way, the bus passes an overgrown baseball field and boarded-up houses, remnants of the prison employees and their families who called the island home until the prison closed in 2011.

Few people who live in the region know about the island and its unusual residents, and even fewer know about the equally unusual law that put them there.

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