Teamsters Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer Tracey A. Thompson has published an editorial in today's Tacoma News Tribune that discusses the dangers of the early release of prisoners to public safety and the safety of correctional employees. The early release of inmates is being proposed by both the State House and the Senate.
In the current House proposal, over 1,000 prisoners would be released early without regard to their risk levels to reoffend. The Senate version would release 500 prisoners early and would immediately release more than 100 additional prisoners, even high violent and sex offenders, who are past their earned release date.
The Teamsters join other law enforcement agencies, including the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Washington Association of Sheriffs, and the Police Chiefs in opposing the State's proposals.
After more than $220 million in cuts from the Department of Corrections over the last three years and three prison closures, the State is now proposing an additional $90 million in cuts.
Secretary-Treasurer Thompson's editorial is published in its entirety below:
PROPOSED DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS CUTS UNACCEPTABLE
By Tracey A. Thompson
At a time when prison safety and public safety are in the forefront of everyone’s mind, our State Legislature is proposing to put both at risk by slashing $90 million in funding to the Department of Corrections. Both the House and Senate budgets propose to release prisoners early and both budgets provide for the elimination of hundreds of positions in our adult prisons. These cuts would be on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars already cut from the Department of Corrections’ budget over the past several years, including the full closure of three adult prisons.
If the House has its way, over 1,000 prisoners will be released early, without regard to their risk levels. The Senate’s version would release over 500 prisoners early and would immediately release more than 100 additional prisoners, even high violent and sex offenders, who are past their earned release date.
Our State’s public safety leaders oppose these budget cuts. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs have spoken against proposed budget measures that eliminate programs, release prisoners early and eliminate positions because they know what the result will be: more crimes committed against the public.
Washington State already has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country. Our existing sentencing guidelines reflect our community’s sense of proportionality between crimes committed and punishment imposed. While the State may save a few dollars in the short term by releasing offenders early, the costs will be immediately shifted to Washington citizens who will become the victims of even more crimes.
According to a PEW Institute study released last week, Washington’s recidivism rate, which is the rate at which released prisoners re-offend, increased by over 30% from 2004 to 2007. If we continue to cut programs, release offenders early, close prisons, and eliminate correctional officer positions, we will see rising crime rates, over-crowded prisons, little or no offender programming and inadequate staffing. That is a recipe for disaster.
Winston Churchill said, “The responsibility of government for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact the prime object for which governments come into existence.” Our elected officials need to remember this.
To view arguments against early release, click here.