Implementation of Senate Bill 6204

Summary

On June 1, 2012 a new law will take effect that will fundamentally change community corrections in Washington. The law is designed to increase offender compliance and connect offenders with evidence-based programs that will reduce the likelihood they will commit new crimes once their supervision ends. 

The Department of Corrections will transition toward a swift-and-certain sanction model when offenders violate the terms of their community supervision, which has shown promising results in other states as well as a pilot project in Seattle. The model is based on research that shows that it’s the swiftness and the certainty of the sanction – not the length of confinement – that has the most impact an offender’s behavior.

Under the new model, low-risk violations such as testing positive for drugs or alcohol will automatically result in one to three days in a county jail. High-risk violations such as firearm possession will still be addressed with a hearings process that could result in up to 30 days confinement. New crimes will now be referred to local prosecutors.

The new model will reduce the amount of money the state has to pay to house offenders in county jails for violations. The Department of Corrections will invest some of those savings into evidence-based programs that are designed to decrease recidivism by changing the offender’s cogitative behavior that leads to new crimes. 

FAQ

Q: How is the public safer with offenders coming out of jail just three days later after they commit a crime?

A: The swift-and-certain model applies to low-risk violations – failing to report on time to his community corrections officer, leaving the county without permission, testing positive for alcohol are a few examples. We’ll refer more high-risk violations such as firearm possession to local prosecutors.

As far as shorter confinement time for low-risk violations, what research shows is that it’s the swiftness and the certainty of the sanction – not the length of confinement – that impacts an offender’s behavior.  Two or three days in a county jail disrupts an offender’s bad behavior without significantly impacting the progress they’ve made finding a job or affordable housing.

Q: If this is such a good idea, then why didn’t you do this earlier?

A: This is a relatively new approach to community supervision, compared to the older “parole and probation” models that have been used nationwide. We have solid evidence from the experiences of other states and our own pilot project in Seattle that show this swift and certain model results in safer communities. By coupling that with evidence-based programs that address the offender’s criminal thinking this will reduce violations and new crimes.

Q: Will connecting offenders to programs really change their behavior?

A: No single program is effective for every offender, but it will change the behavior in some offenders, which will result in fewer crimes, fewer victims and fewer people returning to prison.

Q: Is the goal here really to help the state save money?

A: That’s a certainly a benefit, and most of those savings come from us not needing to rent as many county jail beds. But the reality is that this model has been proven to be more effective at increasing offender compliance than the model we use today. This is one of those cases in which a model is more effective and more efficient.