By Derrick Nunnally
OLYMPIA — A new report announced by Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday recommends Washington put more property crime offenders on supervision instead of relying exclusively on prison.
The report cites FBI statistics that say Washington has the nation’s highest rate of property crimes, including burglary and auto theft. It also says the state’s prisons are filled slightly beyond their maximum capacity of 17,423 inmates. State officials expect the prison population to grow by 6 percent over the next decade, and expanding prison space to meet that growth is estimated to cost $291 million in construction and operations costs by 2021.
“This tells us our incarceration-only strategy is not working and needs to change,” Inslee said at a news conference Wednesday with Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen and other officials.
The report says property crime offenders often serve short prison sentences with little follow-up to prevent recidivism and recommends a new requirement that they serve a year of state supervision after release. Washington is the only state in the country where supervision is not already an option as a sentence for most people convicted of property offenses. Changes to state law reduced the number of people on supervision from a peak of 65,549 in 2003 to 15,395 in 2013, a drop of 77 percent, by removing all but high-risk offenders from supervision outside prison.
Washington’s property crime rate increased 1 percent from 2009 to 2013, a period when the national rate decreased by 11 percent. An outsize number of property crimes are reported in some of the state’s largest counties. In 2013, King County, which has 29 percent of Washington’s population, reported 33 percent of the property crimes. Spokane County, with 7 percent of the state population, reported 11 percent of the state’s property crimes and 17 percent of felony property crime arrests.
“This is one place where we are clearly behind the rest of the country,” Inslee said, “so it’s time to catch up.”
The report, funded by federal and private grants and issued by Inslee’s Justice Reinvestment task force with the nonprofit Council of State Governments, recommends that lawmakers instead spend $90 million over the next six years to increase law enforcement, supervision and victim support programs. Its policies would add an estimated 2,000 nonviolent property crime offenders to supervision programs by 2021, and reduce the expected prison population growth by 900 inmates.
“Prison is an effective program to prevent crime,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam. “It’s just a very expensive effective way to prevent crime.”
Along with supervision and treatment programs for those convicted of property crimes, the report proposes a $4 million statewide competitive grant program to help law enforcement agencies build strategies to fight property crime, including data analysis to identify high-crime areas for increased patrolling.
It also recommends a new state fund for emergency assistance to help victims of property crimes pay for related expenses, such as towing and other fees to recover a stolen car, and a renewal of funding for victim-notification programs in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
The bipartisan task force agreed to develop most of its recommendations, which also include a change in the courts system’s sentencing guidelines and giving counties incentive to expand pretrial screening programs that check for risk of flight or rearrest, into bills to be considered during the 2015 session.