OLYMPIA — Washington ranks near the bottom in the country for the number of people it incarcerates, but like many states, it’s having to find ways to pay for a steadily growing number of people on probation and parole.
One in 30 adults is under correctional control in the state, according to a report released Monday by The Pew Center on the States.
With more than 165,000 people either incarcerated or on parole or probation, Washington state ranks 17th out of all the states. But Washington ranks 44th for the people it puts behind bars — just over 32,000 are incarcerated in either prison or jail.
The vast majority are either on probation or parole — more than 133,000, or about one in 37 people, ranking the state 12th in the nation.
John Lane, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s policy adviser on public safety and criminal justice, said that diversionary programs, like drug courts, have helped “by finding ways to keep people out of prison and focus on drug treatment.”
But as the numbers of those under community supervision have increased, so have the costs. For the 2003-2005 budget, about $190 million went toward supervision. For the current budget ending in 2009, it has increased to nearly $307 million. While that’s just a small part of the state’s $1.8 billion two-year corrections budget, in a year where the state is facing a projected $8 billion deficit through 2011, officials are feeling the pinch.
Lawmakers have introduced several measures dealing with cutting costs at the state Department of Corrections, including expanding a program to release seriously ill prisoners early, deporting noncitizen felons and reducing the amount of people on probation and parole.
According to Monday’s report, there was a significant drop of the number of people on probation in Washington state — about 50,000 — starting in 2004. That’s because of a bill that was signed into law in 2003 that eliminated supervision for many low-risk offenders.
The average cost for a person under community supervision is about $4,000 a year, said Susan Lucas, budget director for the state Department of Corrections.
The Senate has already passed a measure that would release even more convicts from community supervision programs early, and the measure is awaiting action in the House.
“To reduce the budget of Corrections, you must reduce the number of offenders you supervise,” Lucas said.
Dave Daniels, director of research and planning at the agency, said it’s always a balancing act.
“When offenders are out, it’s always a risky business because you can’t watch them 24 hours a day,” he said. “I think the state is trying to be very careful about making sure the most dangerous criminals are in confinement and that those who have a chance of re-entering society are able to be released back into the community.”
On the Web
Pew Center on the States report for Washington: tinyurl.com/dyed7z
Department of Corrections: www.doc.wa.gov
Washington state Legislature: www.leg.wa.gov