McNeil Island sits in Washington State's Puget Sound, just three miles northwest of Steilacoom. For much of its existence, the island served as a fishing outpost for indigenous coastal people. But for the last 150-odd years, McNeil Island has been a place to house society's undesirables. Soon after white settlers claimed it in the 1850s, they built a prison there--Charles Manson served a stint there, long before his infamous Hollywood killing spree. At that point, McNeil Island was a sustainable community that consisted of the prison staff and their family members. There were houses, an elementary school and a graveyard.
But the world changed, and the island prison became too expensive to operate. In 2011 the prison closed, the inmates were relocated, and the staff moved to the mainland.
But by then, McNeil Island had sprouted a different kind of facility, also nested inside razor wire. It wasn't a prison, but its residents weren't exactly free to leave.
It was a late summer morning in 1989 when Washington Governor Booth Gardner came to work at the state capital to find thousands of empty tennis shoes dumped at the capital steps. The shoes were left there by demonstrators calling for harsher punishments for sex offenders. The group did it in response to several gruesome crimes that had happened earlier that year; crimes which the activists argued were enabled by lax sentencing laws and early releases for violent prisoners. The group called themselves the Tennis Shoe Brigade, and the shoes they brought were meant to represent the forgotten victims of rape. Their action prompted Governor Gardner to assemble the Task Force on Community Protection.
That fall, as the Governor Gardner's task force deliberated, serial child rapist Westley Allen Dodd raped and murdered three young boys in Vancouver, Washington. Despite Dodd's long criminal history of child molestation, he never served a full prison sentence for his crimes. Even Dodd himself felt the legal system had failed him and his victims, telling one reporter, "If you add up all the prison time I was given but never made to serve, I'd be in prison until 2026... and those boys would still be alive." Dodd wrote a pamphlet advising children on how to avoid violent sex offenders like him.
In the wake of Dodd's crimes, the task force penned the Community Protection Act of 1990. This act required law enforcement to keep a sex offender registry, and allowed for the civil commitment of Sexually Violent Predators, or SVPs. This meant that this special class of sex offenders could be legally and indefinitely detained after they'd served their criminal sentences if the court deemed them likely (aka. more than 50% likely) to re-offend, if released into the public. But, per the law, civil commitment would be rehabilitative, not punitive, and therefore wouldn't violate double jeopardy. The act passed into law RCW 71.09 also known as the Sexually Violent Predator law.