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October 12, 2011

Washington state struggling with potential corrections budget cuts

2016465414This recent article from the Seattle Times, which is headlined "Budget woes: Will parolees get a free pass?," discusses some of the potential criminal justice consequences of budget cut realities in Washington state.  Here are excerpts:

Prison inmates convicted of murder and other violent crimes could be released without supervision if state lawmakers agree to a drastic set of cuts outlined by the state Department of Corrections.

Under one proposal, roughly 12,000 of the 17,000 felons now supervised in the state's version of parole would be unsupervised upon release from prison, a move one Department of Corrections (DOC) official called "devastating."

Other "reduction alternatives" proposed by DOC include increasing inmates' health-care co-pays to $4 from $3 and releasing inmates judged to be low and moderate risks to re-offend 120 days early, as long as they had not been convicted of a sex offense.

Hoping to head off some proposed cuts, Corrections officials are making budget trims in advance of the state Legislature's special session set for the end of November.  Among expenditures that could be on the chopping block is a 1,000-bed prison that DOC plans to open in Western Washington by 2016.

The state, which is looking to cut nearly $2 billion from the budget this biennium, has asked nearly all major state agencies to submit budget plans reflecting both 5 percent and 10 percent across-the-board cuts.  DOC's budget for the current biennium, which ends in June 2013, is $1.6 billion.  The department already has cut $250 million from its budget over the past three years by closing three prisons and slashing 1,200 jobs.

The deepest cut discussed by DOC would be to the agency's community corrections, or parole, division.  Under the worst-case scenario of a 10 percent cut, 12,000 convicts could be released from community supervision, a move that would save the state about $92 million over 18 months.  It also would require laying off 510 DOC community corrections officers and support staff, Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said....

Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees (WSFE), which represents about 40,000 state workers, warns that the cuts to community corrections could endanger the public.  "We view it as wiping out community supervision, and that's going to harm public safety," Welch said.  "It's a neutron bomb against public safety."

Welch, whose union represents about 1,200 community corrections employees, said the WSFE supports several options to achieve cost savings, including the possibility of putting a proposal before voters to raise taxes.

"It's so devastating, I can't imagine what community corrections would look like," said Mark Janney, a community corrections supervisor who heads a DOC office in North Seattle. "We would be the Department of Prisons."...

If the 10 percent proposal is approved, most sex offenders not still in prison, including those supervised by GPS tracking bracelets, no longer would be supervised.  Felons convicted of murder, kidnapping, assault and other violent crimes also no longer would be supervised upon release.

In addition to not having a probation officer with whom to check in, inmates being released would not have help finding services such as housing and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.  Felons who would remain on community supervision would be drug and sex offenders court-ordered to serve a reduced sentence, which includes a combination of incarceration and treatment.  Felons ordered to serve probation for out-of-state crimes also would remain on supervision.

"You're talking about releasing inmates early, without any supervision. It's just really frightening," said Tracey Thompson, secretary of Teamsters Local 117, which represents about 5,500 corrections officers who work inside the prisons.  "How much deeper can you cut in this area without significantly undermining public safety and staff safety?"

In the past, the DOC has been sued by victims of crime for failing to supervise felons adequately. In 2010, for example, the state paid $4.25 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a Burien woman who suffered brain injuries when she was struck by a car driven by a mentally ill felon under DOC supervision.

October 12, 2011 at 04:59 PM | Permalink


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Naive but sincere question. Has community supervision been proven to keep the public safer? With ordinary manners, I can keep my supervisor satisfied for an hour a week, while spending the rest of my time invading the bedrooms of little girls. I have argued that incapacitation is the sole mature goal of the criminal law. How does community supervision further that goal?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 12, 2011 6:25:10 PM

sounds like an episode from the TV show 'Scare Tactics'

Posted by: comment | Oct 12, 2011 6:26:10 PM

You can count on my handringing and nashing of teeth on this one. The boogy man will come and get you the day after the budget is cut. As for community corrections officers, they are all basic jerks with too much power. I too would like to see the efficacy of community corrections program.

Posted by: Mark Twain | Oct 20, 2011 3:39:22 AM

I am a wife of an inmate who is incarserated at Monroe twin rivers correctional facility, I think they should really consider letting inmates such as my husband who has NO criminal record what so ever get out early, because this is a case where it doesn't only hurt the people on the inside, but the people on the outside as well. I am a struggleing mother raiseing two kids alone, and helping my mom as well. We are all suffering, my husband is in for Vehicular homocide witch the victom being my father who passed in the accident. My husband has a job waiting for him when he gets out. Why have a person who can function on the outside perfectly fine who pays his taxes, be in prision having tax payers pay for that? in the mean time I am having to get state assistance. This is a no win situation in my case. We are a grieving family for both our losses.

Posted by: Jill Milam | Dec 1, 2011 1:41:34 AM

i am a father who is the legal guardian of my son who is incarcerated at sccc. My son has never been in trouble before I have guardianship because he has a childhood mental illness from birth and DOC has all the records. if I could get some help for his mental illness I have him a job in place. i am willing to take full responsibility for him and make sure this situation never happens again. This was his first offense, My son is not a throw away he is well loved by his entire family who is also willing to assist in his care. i am always afraid that my son will give up and take his life because of his mental illness. In this crime no one got hurt and nothing was taken it was a drug deal gone bad where my son had no idea what was really going on. He is that person that wants friends.

Posted by: pierre | Dec 15, 2011 5:09:46 PM

I was convicted of kidnapping my daughter in 2005. There was no sexual motivaqtion on my part. I took my 3 year old daughter to Mexico with me because she WAS being molested by my ex wife's stepson and the police and cps did nothing. Now I have served 68 months in prison, which I got in June 2010, and I have been on community custody ever since, 18 months. I have another 18 months of community custody to serve. I had never had a problem in any way before this happened, I have had no issues since I have been on Community Custody. Why am I still on community custody? so that these officers have a job and for no other reason at all. It's time to close the purse on these state employees and make them live in reality with the rest of us, and find a job that we dont pay for.

Posted by: Shawn Rainey | Dec 15, 2011 5:52:58 PM

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