Gregoire Scales Back Public Safety Cuts

While Governor Christine Gregoire’s proposed cuts to the Department of Corrections (DOC) aren’t as brutal as they could have been, several key programs could soon disappear, leaving more offenders unsupervised and with fewer options when they leave prison.

As Josh already pointed out, Gregoire has said other agencies may be forced to cut deeper to reduce the budgetary damage to DOC to limit the impact on public safety. ”Protecting the public has to be one of our top priorities,” she said.

In September, the DOC, along with other state agencies, turned in a list of proposed cuts to the governor, reducing their budgets by 10 percent. DOC’s $162 million reduction would have eliminated all supervision for offenders released from prison and released some prisoners months early.

Gregoire’s current budget proposal—which, really, is more of a warning shot across the bow of the legislature halves DOC’s required cut to $84 million.

In addition to vague “offender supervisions” and “efficiencies and evidence-based practice” reforms, her plan reduces the length of supervision for all offenders to one year, with the exception of sex offenders, who would stay on probation for two years.

The DOC would release “low to moderate risk” offenders from prison, five months early, close one minimum security prison, and reduce the security level at a prison in Monroe. The department would also release more low-risk offenders from the special commitment center—a mental health treatment facility for “sexually violent predators”—and reduce funding for sexually violent predator commitment trials, limit costs for attorneys, trips to and from jail, expert witness testimony, a limit the length of  the trials.

Programs intended to reduce recidivism will be significantly cut, eliminating a job retraining program for offenders, and slashing drug treatment programs by 50 percent.

Offenders in prisons will also see cuts to food, medical and recreational services, and pay higher health care co-pays.

The DOC would also cut administrative staff and leave positions vacant as part of the proposal

Finally, under the governor’s proposed budget, the cost of testing evidence from crime scenes would be pushed down to local law enforcement agencies. Under the proposal, local agencies would be forced to pay a fee to the state crime lab to test evidence in non-violent crimes. That means police departments could see much higher costs to test evidence from burglaries, auto thefts, and other property crimes.

When asked for their thoughts on the cuts, one DOC worker said, “it’ a jagged pill to swallow, but a realistic one.”