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Whether Washington prisons are well-managed by Corrections Secretary Chase Riveland depends on the yardstick used to measure success. If it’s the price tag, other states look better.

Washington spends more than $23,000 a year to keep a prisoner behind bars. That compares to Oregon’s average cost of roughly $18,000 a year. The national average is about $19,000, the Criminal Justice Institute says.

Riveland admits certain costs - such as inmate health care - can be trimmed. But he says some factors are beyond his control.

For example: Washington prisons are scattered across the state while Oregon’s are clustered around Salem. Also, Oregon prisons don’t have to pay a state sales tax on equipment purchases like Washington’s do.

But if success is measured by recidivism and safety behind bars, Washington state prisons fare much better. According to the Department of Corrections:

Recidivism rate (inmates returning to prison 3 years after release is 28 percent, compared to 35 percent nationally.

Assaults by inmates against staff average two per thousand inmates, compared to seven per thousand nationally.

Assaults by inmates against inmates average three per thousand inmates, compared to 14 per thousand nationally.

Riots and disturbances last year averaged eight nationally. In Washington there was one.

-Jim Brunner, staff writer

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