Bringing convicted serial killer Gary Ridgway back to Washington raises questions over solitary confinement policy.
ONE thing is certain about the Green River killer’s future: Gary L. Ridgway will rot in prison.
Yet some elected officials and family members of his many victims were shaken by the recent revelation of Ridgway’s transfer from solitary confinement in the Washington State Penitentiary to a federal prison in Colorado.
The state Department of Corrections should have notified victims’ families and explained why they made this decision last spring. Transparency regarding the handling of Washington’s most notorious serial killer might have saved Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner from suddenly reversing course last Friday. (Warner announced Tuesday that he is stepping down from the DOC and taking a job in the private sector.)
Lesson learned, but state officials must now confront the question once again of what to do with Ridgway. Despite the public perception, Ridgway’s move to Colorado did not constitute a special privilege. He’s been housed alone in a maximum-security cell as federal authorities assessed their incarceration options and Washington state’s request to put him in a facility for extremely high-risk offenders.
Ridgway was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to killing almost 50 people, and he claims to have killed dozens more. Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in return for information about his victims — which answered the terrible question for some families.
For more than a decade, Ridgway has been in solitary confinement in Walla Walla — not because he is a troublesome inmate, but because he is considered vulnerable to attack from others in the general prison population.
A return to Washington means Ridgway may go back into solitary confinement, a costlier arrangement.
Groups representing mental-health and public-health specialists, including the American Psychiatric Association, have expressed concern about the effects of long-term solitary confinement, especially if an inmate has a mental illness. Washington state’s prison system has acknowledged the research and reduced the number of inmates in solitary confinement by half since 2011.
Records obtained by The Seattle Times indicate Ridgway complained of “unspecified mental problems” and took medication.
Regardless of where he is imprisoned, authorities can still question him about other victims. However, Ridgway has a history of lying about the location of victims and leading investigators on wild goose chases.
His transfer to Colorado cost taxpayers about $20,000. Expect another hefty amount for his return flight, with no guarantee for families of finding closure.