Would early prison release save Washington cash?

From: Seattle Times

Washington faces a $5 billion budget deficit, and that has politicians looking for savings in the cell blocks.

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, The Associated Press
Originally published April 2, 2011

SPOKANE — Like many states, cash-strapped Washington is looking to save money by reducing the size of its prison population.

But the state already has been releasing nonviolent offenders for years, leaving relatively few inmates who would be good candidates for early release. Washington has about 17,000 prison inmates, well below the average for a state of 6.6 million.

“Over the last 10 years, we have moved away from incarcerating in any great numbers people who don’t deserve to be in prison,” said Tom McBride, a spokesman for the state Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

That is not the case in all states. Huge budget deficits are causing politicians in many states to take a hard look at prisons and at the tough-on-crime laws that have locked up more people for longer periods. At least two dozen states are considering early release of inmates to save money. Tougher sentencing laws have contributed to a fourfold increase in state prison costs across the nation over two decades: from $12 billion in 1988 to more than $50 billion by 2008.

Washington faces a $5 billion budget deficit, and that has politicians looking for savings in the cell blocks.

State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, has proposed early release of some inmates who have not committed sex offenses, murder or certain drug offenses. An inmate at low risk to reoffend could see 120 days shaved off a sentence under the proposal, while a high-risk but nonviolent inmate would get 60 days off a sentence.

Some of the money saved would be used for treatment and education programs that lower recidivism rates. “A person with a high likelihood of committing a violent offense isn’t going to be allowed to be released under this program,” Kline said.

Proponents say the state could save $6.6 million in the next two years, a tiny percentage of the deficit. Prosecutors oppose the measure.

Kline said his bill would reduce the daily prison population by about 3.5 percent. It costs about $37,000 to keep a prison inmate in Washington.

A study conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found the bill would result in 3,700 fewer crimes over the next 20 years, saving taxpayers $35 million, assuming rehabilitation works.

In Washington, discussions about reducing the prison budget come amid the horrific backdrop of the murder of a corrections officer on Jan. 29. Jayme Biendl was strangled by an inmate while working alone in the chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

While prison officials have said Biendl’s murder was not related to state budget cuts, which had yet to impact Monroe much, the case has become a political football.

Read the rest here.

Advertisements