April 29, 2011

Don't put savings before safety, CCO tells Senate Ways & Means committee

The Legislature in special session has nothing but a pro forma Senate session today, but one Federation Community Corrections member’s testimony yesterday may have gone a long way to protecting community safety.

In the only legislative hearing held Thursday, Local 53 member
Donald Feist, a Community Corrections officer 3 in Tacoma, laid out the union’s opposition to relevant parts of the Senate’s omnibus criminal justice bill, SB 5891.

He urged senators to reject the parts of the bill affecting early release of dangerous offenders.

“The savings that may be realized by this bill will come with significant risk,” Feist told the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “We’re now at the point of jeopardizing our neighbors and loved ones by releasing dangerous, high-risk offenders back on the streets without treatment, resources or supervision.”

Based on his testimony and opposition, a proposal to reduce prison sentences appears doomed, but the idea of releasing based on good behavior may still remain.

Feist explained that legislation (SB 5288) passed in 2009 already cut thousands from post-release supervision.

“This was not done based on best practices, community safety or offender success,” Feist said. “It was done out of financial need. Because of the implementation of (SB) 5288, we’ve created a supervised offender population that now amounts basically to the worst of the worst.

“In addition, this population must now be supervised using vastly reduced staff, total resources, both within the agency and without.”

Two years later, the impact of that move hasn’t even been determined, he said, but “we’re back here looking at cutting thousands more from supervision under this bill.

“However, these newly cut offenders have already been determined to be dangerous and high risk enough to warrant supervision during times of extreme financial duress.

“Where the buck stops in regard to supervision and community safety has already been established. To further increase the number of dangerous offenders released directly back to the streets without any form of supervision or further accountability we feel is both irresponsible and dangerous."

Current proposals cut some $90 million from Washington’s corrections budget – on top of more than $250 million in cuts during the past three years.

new study from The Pew Center on the States warns that these kinds of proposed cuts will lead to a higher rate of released prisoners re-offending and ending up back in prison.

“That means more crime, it means more victims – and ultimately, it means higher costs for the state,” the Pew Center’s Adam Gelb told the Washington News Service.

That report shows that Washington has one of the highest increases in the rate of recidivism (re-offending) – 30.8 percent between 1999-2002 and 2004-2007. That’s the third highest in the nation, after South Dakota and Oregon.

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