Achieve Organizational Excellence | Provide Full & Partial Confinement Options
The Department of Corrections is committed to operate a safe and humane corrections system. The department will accomplish the mission to improve public safety through deliberate actions taken to achieve objectives related to improving lives and keeping people safe.
Operating overcapacity threatens the department's ability to maintain a safe, humane, and effective corrections system. Inadequate capacity also diminishes the ability for the department to house incarcerated individuals appropriately, to offer rehabilitative programming, and to respond to emergent issues that could arise due to failing infrastructure, unforeseen conditions, or natural disasters.
For the last several years, there has been a relatively steady increase in the population housed in department facilities. Capacity of those facilities has struggled to keep pace as creating additional living units or facilities is a long term and expensive process. However, a decrease in admissions for property and drug offenders in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 has alleviated some overcapacity issues.
The department works closely with the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council to determine if the demand for beds is predicted to change in the future.
How We Measure
The Department of Corrections continues to strive to provide full and partial confinement options within 100% of capacity.
This statistic describes the number of individuals incarcerated in prison and work release facilities expressed as a percentage of the number of beds available.
Factors that Influence Prison Capacity
State Sentencing Laws
State sentencing laws have a direct impact on the department's capacity needs and services that can be provided. Statutes determine what offenses the courts send to prison and for how long they stay. The Department of Corrections is responsible for carrying out court sentences and to hold individuals accountable for their behavior while incarcerated.
Recidivism also places demands on prison beds. For 2016 releases, 12.1% of individuals returned to prison within one year. The department intends to decrease the first-year recidivism rate to 10% by 2023. The decrease equates to roughly 160 fewer people returning to prison and an increase in public safety.
Actions Being Taken to Deliver Results
- Work release is a proven program achieving results for returning citizens. The program offers a structured environment for individuals transitioning back into the community through employment, programming, and connection to state and local reentry resources. In 2019, the department received funding to increase the number of beds by 200, for a total of 941.
- The graduated reentry program was implemented in 2018. It is a program for eligible incarcerated individuals to serve up to six months of their prison sentence in the community with enhanced supervision, resources, and case management. This program supports the individual's reentry and transition efforts. The department has continued to increase the number of individuals on this program since its inception.
- Several capacity projects were funded in the 2017-19 and 2019-21 budget cycles to help reduce overcrowding in prisons. These projects include a 128-bed minimum-security prison at Maple Lane, a 41-bed expansion of the Ahtanum View work release, 200 additional work release beds to be sited in underserved areas of the state, 187 graduated reentry program slots, and more programming space at the Washington State Penitentiary.
- The approach has been to maximize the use of confinement options within funding and policy authority. However, legislative action is often necessary to implement large changes. The department continues to advocate for sustainable solutions to address both current needs and future forecasts.