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Corrections cuts could pose significant public safety risk

The Governor’s budget office has directed the Department of Corrections to create a contingency plan to prepare for up to 15% across-the-board budget cuts for the 2015-2017 biennium. DOC Secretary Bernie Warner notified correctional employees about the cuts in a message he emailed to all DOC staff on Thursday, June 12.

With the current DOC budget at $1.7 billion, a 15% reduction in corrections constitutes cuts of up to $250 million.  

“The State’s budget crisis is very real, but the answer to the crisis is not further cuts at the Department of Corrections,” said Tracey A. Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “With all of the cuts and prison closures over the last several years, it is hard to imagine how further reductions will not seriously jeopardize staff safety and public safety.”

Since 2010, the State has cut $220 million from the DOC and closed three prisons. The DOC reports that the prison offender population has tripled in the past two decades, while the proportion of high-risk, violent offenders has risen.

“Cuts of this magnitude would likely mean more prison closures and the early release of prisoners into our community. Public safety and the safety of correctional staff would be put at risk.  We ought to allocate more resources to protect and retain prison staff, not make their jobs more difficult,” Thompson said.

Staff safety and assaults on staff remain a major problem in Washington State prisons.

On Saturday, an inmate assaulted a cook at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Three correctional officers who responded to the incident and the cook were injured in the attack.  Earlier this year, on February 3, an inmate stabbed a correctional officer in the neck with a fabricated weapon at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center.  A week later, two officers were hospitalized after they were assaulted by an inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary. 


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