Lawmakers look at new way to keep offenders in line

Community corrections officers across the state could employ a new tactic by next spring to get felons on supervision to meet the conditions of their release.

The idea is to impose brief but immediate punishment of up to 72 hours in jail for violators.

It’s like a time-out, but behind bars.

Short trips to the hoosegow would be in store for offenders who don’t report to corrections officers, fail drug tests, don’t get ordered treatment or move without permission. They would be in for harsher penalties for more serious behavior, such as getting arrested for new crimes or violating no-contact orders.

Repeat violators would be locked up in county jails until they comply with their conditions.

Known as a “swift and certain” sanction policy, it is included in two bills before the Legislature during the special session that got under way last week.

“It wears them down,” state Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.

As it stands, it can take weeks for an offender to receive punishment, which usually is a longer stint in jail, Lewis said.

State corrections leaders believe that by cranking up accountability with immediate jail time in the first months after release, offenders will be more likely to comply through the remainder of their supervision.

That, in turn, should result in less time served in county jails, Lewis said. Corrections officials estimate they could save $27 million now spent on county jail beds between next spring and June 2013.

Lewis insists that the swift-and-certain proposal is sound, even if it’s being offered up at a time when state agencies have been ordered to find ways to slash spending.

“It’s evidence-based,” he said. “We support this as good policy, regardless of the budget cuts.”

“Seventy-two hours seems to get the attention of an offender,” said Karen Adams, who oversees Department of Corrections field offices in seven Northwest Washington counties. “After that, the (jail) time tends to lose its effectiveness. The offender starts to settle in” to the jail routine.

Community corrections officer Gary Rink, who deals with mentally ill offenders, likes the idea of shorter stays for the people on his caseload. He said it provides shorter interruptions to treatment they might be getting and lowers the risk of them losing jobs.

“We need to get them out and back into a program as soon as possible,” said Richard Kendo, another community corrections officer.

One concern under the proposal is offenders would be on supervision for shorter durations.

The average supervision of sex offenders would drop from about three years to two. The average length of supervision for most offenders would be trimmed from 16 months to 12 months under the changes being proposed.

That concerns Patricia Hudson, a community corrections officer who supervises domestic violence offenders. She worries that won’t be enough time for them to complete domestic violence treatment, which typically takes a year.

“They’ll run out of time,” she said.

It also would shorten the time for victims who “reach out to us as a lifeline,” she said.

Even so, a year is better than nothing, she said.

No community supervision has been one budget-cutting suggestion floating around the state capital. When state agencies were asked to propose 5 percent and 10 percent budget reductions earlier this year, the Department of Corrections estimated it could save $97 million through June 2013 by ending community supervision of offenders altogether.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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