Proposed Corrections Department budget cuts would reduce or end many of the rehabilitation programs behind bars, even though job training and alcohol and drug counseling are proven to help people stay out of prison after their release.
The Department says 70 percent of its population is serving time for violent crimes, a statistic Tracey Thompson, who represents prison workers for the Teamsters
union, says underscores the need to do more than just warehouse offenders - for the staff as well as the inmates.
"Safety concerns in the prison are huge for us, particularly given the murder of Jayme Biendl earlier this year. Idle prisoners, prisoners who aren't getting the programming they need, are more likely to be assaultive when they're inside these facilities."
Biendl is the 34-year-old guard who was killed in January by an inmate at the State Reformatory in Monroe.
Combined with proposals for early release for some inmates to save money, Thompson says the Legislature's proposed cuts are asking for trouble - and a higher recidivism rate in the long run.
A new study
by Pew Center on the States says Washington's prison population has grown more slowly than that of other states, and less than one in four felony offenders ends up back in prison after their release. But Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project
, says many states facing budget crises are compromising public safety by chipping away at the very reasons for their rehabilitation successes.
"If they cut the programs that are working well, one thing that you can be sure of is, the recidivism rate will start to rise. That means more crime, it means more victims - and ultimately, it means higher costs for the state."
Current proposals cut $90 million from Washington's corrections budget, on top of more than $250 million in cuts during the past three years.
The study, "The State of Recidivism," is online at pewcenteronthestates.org.