The population of Washington state prison inmates has become more violent, whiter and older in the past decade, an Associated Press review of Department of Corrections records has found.
And while running the prison system eats up 5 percent of the state budget, there appear to be few places that funding can be cut without resorting to releasing inmates early, as some states have done.
“The main way to save money is to close a facility and lay off staff,” said Tom McBride, a spokesman for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, whose members are concerned the state is running out of prison beds. “When you look at our prison population, it’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t deserve to be there.”
Indeed, changes started in the 1980s have dramatically altered the prison system’s population. While Washington has a relatively small prison population — about 17,000 for a state of 6.6 million people — the percentage of inmates serving time for violent crimes is greater than the national average.
The idea of releasing some inmates early to help reduce the projected $4.6 billion deficit in the next two-year state budget is being discussed in Olympia, officials say, although no bill has been introduced.
“We have taken no position on that,” said John Lane, of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s policy office.