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.

Barry Massey, Sentenced to Life for Crime He Committed at 13, Loses Shot at Clemency Recommendation Because He Fell in Love

Are they crazy? A sound relationship is a very good thing for everyone! Wake up!

From Seattle Weekly

By Nina Shapiro, Thu., Dec. 16 2010

Barry Massey, one of the youngest people ever to be sentenced to life in prison, came back to the state Clemency and Pardons Board today looking for another shot at mercy. Governor Chris Gregorie turned down the board’s recommendation for clemency four years ago, and since then he has only drawn more supporters locally and nationally. This time, however, a deeply-torn board rejected Massey’s application.

After a hearing that stretched on for hours beyond its alloted time, with some 75 Massey supporters packing the room, the board this evening voted three to two to recommend against clemency. Massey was 13 when he participated in the 1987 robbery and murder of a Steilacoom store owner.

The board changed its mind in part because Massey fell in love. Around the time of his last clemency hearing, Massey embarked upon a relationship with a prison guard. This was no liason in a broom closet. The woman, who left the prison system after the forbidden love was discovered, later became his wife (see picture of Barry and Rhonda Massey above).

But board member Raul Almeida, among others, said he was disturbed by Massey’s “error in judgement”– a decision Almeida stressed Massey made as an adult.
He so noted because much of the support for Massey has focused on the fact that the man who has now served 24 years in prison was so young when he committed his crime.

“I can’t make sense of the notion that a board that was inclined to grant clemency four years ago is now inclined to deny it because he engaged in the most basic and positive endavor,” board member Amanda Lee countered.

Read the rest here.

WA DoC: Shorter Socks and Fewer Trashcan Liners: DOC Implements Cost-Saving Ideas from Its Staff

This is taken from the website of the WA State Department of Corrections.
We note this:

“The agency is also re-issuing clothes and underwear issued to offenders.” It used to be policy that family and friends were allowed to buy clothing for the people in prisons. Why was it forbidden? It cost too much to wash the prisoners´ own clothes?

“No more funeral and death-bed visits for offenders in prisons unless the offenders’ families pay for the escort and travel costs.”

So, wait. Families already pay for visits in travel expenses. what does this mean? No more funerals? Can family no longer visit a prisoner who is dying?

“The agency continues to incarcerate more than 16,000 offenders in prisons and supervises more than 19,000 offenders in communities.”

So wait, did any of the 1,500 cost-saving suggestions actually mention incarcerating less people, making sentences less long, introducing effective means to rehabilitate people? Would that not be much more cost-saving?

Wake up!

Press release:

OLYMPIA – The Department of Corrections expects to save $22,000 each year by purchasing shorter socks for offenders. It expects to save $220,000 each year by reducing the number of trashcan liners it purchases by 40 percent. The agency is implementing those cost-saving ideas and others recommended by its employees.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the best cost-saving ideas have come from our staff,” Secretary Eldon Vail said. “The men and women work on the ground level at prisons and field offices are typically better able to see what ideas will work.”

Another cost-saving suggestion was to do away with juice fountains in prisons and provide offenders with juice packets instead. That will save an estimated $120,000 each year. The agency is also re-issuing clothes and underwear issued to offenders.
Due to the state’s declining revenue the Department of Corrections must reduce its across-the-board spending by nearly $53 million between now and June 30, 2011, which is the end of the two-year budget cycle. The agency continues to incarcerate more than 16,000 offenders in prisons and supervises more than 19,000 offenders in communities.

DOC staff members so far have submitted more than 1,500 cost-saving suggestions. One suggestion that was recently implemented was no more funeral and death-bed visits for offenders in prisons unless the offenders’ families pay for the escort and travel costs. That will save an estimated $43,000 each year. The prisons division expects to save money by using reusable bags at offender stores instead of paper ones.

“We’re looking at everything we purchase to figure out if we can do without it,” Vail said. “And the things that we do purchase, we’re figuring out if they can be re-used. That cuts down on our purchasing costs and also reduces landfill waste.”

WA Prisoner wins PEN Writing Contest: Walla Walla IMU

Voices from Solitary: Walla Walla IMU
August 28, 2010

Arthur Longworth was awarded First Place in memoir in the PEN American Center’s 2010 Prison Writing Contest, for his piece about life in solitary confinement in the Intensive Management Unit, or IMU, at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Longworth provides this biography on the PEN website: “I am a forty-five year old state-raised prisoner. And, I will not be silent. Most of the time I have spent at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, WA—which is also the subject of my essay. Entering the prison with only a 7th-grade education, I taught myself to write by reading books from the prison library. I work as a Spanish language translator.”

The bread is moving. A small piece broken off of what was pushed through the narrow cuffport to me earlier that morning. A horde of tiny red ants have surrounded it, are beneath it, hefting it up on little ant shoulders as they struggle to carry it back to where they live, a crack in the concrete floor a short distance away. Their task appears impossible. But the bread, I know, will soon make it to the crack. It always does.

Why do I do this? My mind searches for an answer as I continue watching the ants, looking down at them from where I sit cross-legged on the cell floor in stinking orange coveralls. Because they’re living beings? In some way like me?

Another question rises in my mind, piqued by the ones before it. “I am still alive, aren’t I?” And as ridiculous as the question seems, it holds my attention because it’s hard for me to be certain of anything in this place anymore. I haven’t spoken in months. What do I actually have to verify that I am still alive? A heartbeat? It strikes me that someone dead may still perceive his heart as beating. Breath? Dead people probably think they’re breathing too.

I look at the heavy steel cell door beside me. That is something—what keeps me sealed inside this concrete box, this IMU cell. If I am no longer alive, would it still do this to me? God, I hope not. I motherfucking hope not. The thought scares me. Deepens despair. Hell, in my mind, not the fiery nether world of Christianity. How can I adopt an abstract when I know something worse, a thousand times more concrete?…

Read the rest here.

Take a Stand Against the Death Penalty From ACLU of Washington

Our Governor will soon have the opportunity to reject the use of the death penalty against mentally ill people. Cal Brown, a mentally ill death row inmate, will be executed on Sept 10, 2010 unless the Governor commutes his sentence to life in prison. The death penalty is an unfair and irrational punishment that does not deter violent crime. Sign our petition urging the Governor to commute this death sentence and support legislation in 2011 that will end the death penalty in Washington state.

Link to ACLU of Washington’s Petition Here

Replace the Death Penalty with Life Incarceration

The ACLU of Washington supports legislation that eliminates the death penalty in favor of life incarceration without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty in Washington has proven costly and unfair, and has not resulted in a reduction in crime. It’s time to follow other states’ lead and stop wasting millions of our tax dollars on a capital punishment system that is broken beyond repair.

The death penalty’s costs to Washington taxpayers are staggering.

It is far more expensive to execute someone convicted than it is to sentence that person to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The prosecution and defense of capital cases costs $467,000 more per case than noncapital cases. A capital case also involves increased court costs, as well as the need for a high-security, expensive death row—dollars our state could use to help victims’ families in a time of fiscal crisis.

The death penalty does not make us safer.

Study after study has shown that the death penalty does not deter crime. And states without the death penalty have much lower murder rates. The South accounts for 80% of U.S. executions but has the highest regional murder rate.

The death penalty is unfair.

Because of the high cost of seeking the death penalty, prosecutors in various counties differ widely on whether to seek it. So an individual’s likelihood of being sentenced to die depends on where his or her crime was committed. For example, Gary Ridgeway was convicted of multiple murders and got a life sentence—while others got the death penalty for lesser crimes.

The death penalty is also racially biased. In Washington, prosecutors have sought death sentences almost three times as often if one or more of the victims was white.

The risk of mistakes is too great.

The death penalty poses an unacceptable risk of executing the innocent. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977, at least 124 men and women have been released from death row nationally—some only minutes away from execution. It is likely that innocent individuals have been executed, and such mistakes are irreversible.

Life without parole is a sensible alternative to the death penalty.

A sentence of life without parole means exactly what it says—those convicted of crimes are locked away in prison until they die. However, unlike the death penalty, a sentence of life without parole allows mistakes to be corrected or new evidence to come to light. And life without parole is far less expensive.

Other states are repealing the death penalty.

New Mexico and New Jersey became the most recent states to repeal the death penalty, joining Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Washington should follow their lead and replace its death penalty with a fairer, more sensible system.

Link to article here

Washington state prisoners produce frozen food for other prisoners as a cost savings-2400 calories-$5 a day

Inmates cook for inmates
By Alex Paul, Albany Democrat-Herald
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

LEBANON — Inmates at the new Lebanon jail will eat three meals a day prepared by inmates from the Washington State Department of Corrections, according to police Chief Mike Healy.

Healy and Lt. Ben Silverman informed the city council about the meal plan during a recent tour of the six-cell, 12-bed facility.

The new $10 million, 30,000-square-foot Justice Center opened last summer. Inmates so far have been short-term holds, Healy said, but the jail is starting to accept longer-term inmates, from 30 days up to one year.

The meals are purchased from the Airway Heights correctional facility near Spokane. In addition to serving the nutritional needs of Washington state inmates, the factory also sells products to 45 jails in Oregon, Washington and Montana.

More than 200 inmates work at the facility that produces 4,000 to 6,000 TV dinner-like frozen meals per day. The program started in the mid-1990s, according to Danielle Wiles, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Corrections.

Wiles said the program generates more than $2 million per year for the system.

Opening the door of a large upright freezer, Healy revealed stacks of frozen meals. The meals are nutritionally balanced and total no more than 2,400 calories per day.

Healy said the goal is to feed the inmates, not fatten them.

“We will supplement the dinners with fresh fruit and dairy,” Healy said.

The meals are purchased in three-month supplies. They are heated in a microwave oven.

Healy said the department will be able to feed inmates for about $5 each per day. Other company’s meal plans cost as much as $8 per day. At the city’s old jail, TV dinners were bought in bulk, Healy said.

A breakfast with scrambled eggs as the entree costs $1.60, while cold cereal costs just 72 cents per serving.

For lunch, a roast beef sandwich box meal costs $1.80 and a turkey sandwich meal is $1.55.

Supper entrees are more substantial, such as salisbury steak at $1.78, or fish and chips at $1.70.

“These are the same type and quality of sandwiches that are sold in many convenience stores and at some casinos,” Healy said.

The Linn County Jail contracts with a private company called Aramark to provide meals to inmates. Aramark staff members operate the jail’s kitchen, and meals cost about $1.50 each, according to Capt. Barry Baggett.