Public Opinion of Corrections
A poll conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts found overwhelming support for lower incarceration rates, shorter prison sentences and alternatives to incarceration – all of which Washington has done for years.
Opinion: "There are too many people in prison in the United States"
In Washington: Washington ranks 42nd in the nation in the rate of incarceration, meaning it incarcerates a relatively small percentage of its population. That’s due in large part to sentencing alternatives that result in offenders receiving chemical-dependency treatment instead of incarceration.
Opinion: "We have too many low-risk, nonviolent offenders in prison."
In Washington: About 70 percent of the prison population is serving a sentence for a violent crime, and about half of the remaining offenders have committed violent crimes in the past.
Opinion: "We need alternatives to incarceration that cost less and save prison space for violent or career criminals."
In Washington: Few states have as many sentencing alternatives as Washington. One example, the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative, results in offenders being closely supervised in the community while they receive chemical-dependency treatment. Another, the Family & Offender Sentencing Alternative, connects families by supervising offenders who have dependent children.
Opinion: "If we are serious about public safety we must increase access to treatment and job training programs so they can become productive citizens after release."
In Washington: For years we have implemented many programs that are proven to help reduce recidivism. We offer a variety of job training programs, chemical dependency treatment, and cognitive behavioral programs to offenders in prisons and the community. We are in the process now of implementing what is referred to as Evidence-Based Corrections in which we will focus those programs on the highest-risk offenders because research shows that it is most effective at increasing public safety. We will also have Quality Assurance Specialists to ensure that the evidence-based programs we introduce in prisons and the community are efficient and effective.
Opinion: "If we are serious about public safety we need a better system to supervise and track people under community supervision."
In Washington: We support current legislation that would reengineer the Community Corrections Division and move toward a system that focuses on increasing compliance and reducing recidivism. One key change is the implementation of a "swift and certain" sanction model for offenders who violate the terms of their supervision. Offenders are confined for shorter periods of time for technical violations, which research shows is more effective. This increases compliance because offenders can better predict the consequences of their actions, and reduces costs by reducing the need for jail beds for violators. It’s been very successful in other states and we are implementing this model gradually across the state.
Opinion: "Prison terms for nonviolent offenders should be shorted if they behave well and are considered low risk for committing another crime."
In Washington: Law changes in recent years have eliminated supervision for most low-risk offenders. The majority of the 15,000 offenders on community supervision – about 66 percent – are considered a high risk to commit a new crime. Offenders in prison can earn credit toward their sentence by successfully completing programs, drug treatment and not committing serious infractions.
Drug Offender Statistics
The Pew poll did not address the public opinion of incarceration of drug offenders, however, we are frequently asked about the financial impact of releasing those offenders.
- About 9 percent of Washington's prison population is incarcerated for drug crimes.
- Legalization of marijuana would have little impact on Washington's prison population because very few offenders are currently serving prison sentences for drug possession. And if you look at the 9 percent of offenders who are incarcerated today, they have distributed large amounts of drugs and are considered a high risk to commit a new crime.