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Bill to expand state’s reentry program for prisoners passes Washington Senate

The Washington Capitol building is seen on the last day of the 60-day legislative session, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Olympia, Wash.  (Rachel La Corte)
The Washington Capitol building is seen on the last day of the 60-day legislative session, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. (Rachel La Corte)

OLYMPIA – A state bill that would expand the prison system’s graduated reentry program to allow for more eligibility passed the Senate on Wednesday after a lengthy floor debate.

The bill, requested by the Department of Corrections, would create two participation tracks for the program, which was established in 2018 and allows for inmates to complete the last portion of their sentence in partial confinement with electronic home monitoring. The two new tracks for the program include the following:

  • After six months at a state correctional facility, inmates who are not subject to a deportation order, civil commitment or interstate compact for adult offender supervision can become eligible to serve up to the final five months of their sentence in partial confinement at home
  • After four months at a state correctional facility, inmates who are not serving a sentence for a sex, violent or crime against a person offense would be eligible to serve the remaining portion of their term at home

“We know this program works for this population,” prime sponsor Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, said, adding the recidivism rate is less than 1% for those in this program.

Those in the program work with case managers and programmers who help them reenter the community, Darneille said.

The bill is an expansion of the 2018 law that created the program but required those in it to spend at least 12 months in total confinement before being allowed to spend no more than the final six months in partial confinement.

“This is not some new concept,” Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. “This is something that’s working well.”

Sixteen amendments were debated on the floor, most from Republicans who wanted to tighten the restrictions on who would be eligible for the program. Some amendments would have increased the amount of time someone would need to spend in a correctional facility before applying for partial confinement. Others would have exempted certain groups from being able to apply, such as those with vehicle offenses or property offenses.

“I hardly think that six months is enough to make sure they do not recidivate,” Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the program might be a good idea for both those incarcerated as well as the state, which would house less people in correctional facilities. However, he wasn’t sure if it would be worth “the risk of our communities around the state to take such a big leap.”

He said this program could save the state money “on the backs of our communities around the state.”

“There are no guarantees here,” he said. “Nothing of this scale has been envisioned.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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