New law aims to create balance in prison-release placement

Governor Chris Gregoire yesterday signed into law a bill requires that each criminal offender to have a plan for employment and treatment prior to their release from Washington prisons and will be held accountable if they violate the terms of their community supervision.

It also aims to address the complaints of Pierce County officials who say the Washington State Department of Corrections unfairly places recently released inmates in the community.

“For far too long, Pierce County has borne a burden that is unfair to them,” said Gov. Gregoire, who enacted Senate Bill 6157 at Lakewood City Hall. The new bill directs the Department of Corrections to examine the number of existing prison-related and work-release programs in a community, and consider new sites in locations with fewer such facilities. The most important aspect to local officials is the caveat that former offenders must be released to the county from which they received their sentence.

The bill also directs the Department of Corrections (DOC) and local governments to work together to provide services to offenders who have served their sentence and are returning to the community. It requires DOC to address the needs of offenders with education, employment services and treatment programs. The bill also increases employment and housing opportunities for offenders during their transition back into communities. The Washington Institute for Public Policy in 2006 found that investing in these types of programs will reduce recidivism rates. In order to qualify for early release for good behavior, offenders must participate in the programs directed by their Reentry Plan and will face serious consequences if they violate the conditions of their release.

The issue of repeat crime is a nationwide problem. In California, 70 percent of offenders commit another crime after they are released from prison, the highest recidivism rate in the country. The national average recidivism rate is 60 percent and, in Washington, the rate is 42 percent.

“We cannot continue to build more prisons,” said Governor Gregoire. “We must address the causes of crime and give former offenders the skills and treatment they need to stay out of prison. Our goal must be to stop crime and keep our communities safe.

“This bill is not only tough on crime, it’s smart on crime and it will help keep communities safe,” she added. “Offenders will not be let off the hook.”