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The COVID-19 pandemic led to abrupt changes in the operations of the adult criminal justice system. In this report, we describe how the flow of individuals through the adult criminal justice system has changed since the start of the pandemic by system component and by type of offense. We provide a high-level summary of the Washington State adult criminal justice system and discuss the decrease in measures of criminal justice processing at key stages of the system after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We then discuss some additional changes to the criminal justice system since the end of calendar year 2020 and considerations for whether the system will return to processing the same number of individuals as it did before the pandemic.
Washington’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) collaborate to provide educational programming to incarcerated individuals and formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering the community. Available educational programming includes adult basic education, workforce and vocational training, and Associate of Arts degrees, among other options.
In 2020, the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), in partnership with DOC and SBCTC, received a grant from the Lumina Foundation to improve postsecondary credential outcomes for incarcerated and re-entering populations in Washington. As a part of this grant, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) was contracted by WSAC to examine the landscape of postsecondary correctional education programs in Washington.
This study presents an overview of the postsecondary correctional education system in Washington, with an examination of the patterns of enrollment in and completion of postsecondary programs for incarcerated individuals. We found that Black, Latino, and other people of color participated in correctional education programs at a greater rate than White individuals while incarcerated. Rates of retention and completion once enrolled were similar across all racial groups, although Black and Latino students were slightly less likely to complete their degree programs. These findings were consistent for both professional/technical degrees and academic transfer degrees.
This report also includes a review of national research literature identifying challenges that may inhibit participation in postsecondary programs and best practices that may promote access. We found that Washington already implements many useful practices, chiefly the coordination between the Department of Corrections, community colleges, and other stakeholders and reentry services for formerly incarcerated students. Though barriers to participation still exist, often around funding, eligibility, and course quality, we found that these challenges would not generally limit participation for incarcerated students of color uniquely. However, some policies, particularly those related to student eligibility factors, may indirectly contribute to inequities.
The Washington State Criminal Sentencing Task Force (CSTF) was directed to review the state’s sentencing laws. To better understand the landscape of sentencing in Washington and the potential impacts of reforming the state’s sentencing laws, the CSTF contracted with WSIPP to examine felony sentencing in Washington State Superior Courts. This report is intended to provide analytic data to assist with future policy discussions within the CSTF.
Using data from the Caseload Forecast Council, this report reviews the outcomes from FY 2019 felony sentences. Specifically, the report examines how standard, non-drug sentences vary across the current offense seriousness level-based sentencing guideline grid. The report also examines how sentences may vary across an alternative, felony class-based guideline grid.
This report includes an examination of racial disproportionality in sentencing outcomes for standard sentences in the current and alternative guideline grids and for non-standard sentences including enhancements, exceptional sentences, and sentencing alternatives.
In general, the report found that average sentence lengths and incarceration rates may decrease under a class-based grid. However, racial disproportionality in sentencing outcomes was present under both grid systems. The magnitude of racial disproportionality varied for different types of offenses and for different types of sentences.
WSIPP’s Board of Directors approved a Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) contract with WSIPP to examine the new DOC risk and needs assessment—the Washington ONE. In 2017, DOC transitioned to the Washington ONE for adults incarcerated in state facilities or under DOC supervision in the community. During the current phase of implementation, contact requirements for community supervision are based on an individual’s initial assessment and are not updated during regularly scheduled reassessments. We examined how the new assessment impacted risk level classification and corresponding contact requirements for community contacts and how these requirements would change if they were updated following reassessments. We found minimal differences between the contact requirements under the previous risk assessment system, the current Washington ONE assessment system, and a more dynamic Washington ONE assessment system. Our analysis found that contact requirements for some individuals would change if contact levels were updated following reassessments. However, we found that a similar number of individuals showed a reduction in risk level and contacts over time as the number of individuals showed an increase in risk level and contacts over time, resulting in little change in DOC’s workload associated with community contacts during the study period.
Previous reports published by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy have shown a gradual decline in recidivism for adults released from prison through the 1990s and early 2000s. This report updates WSIPP’s 2011 review of recidivism trends for adults released from prison and expands the scope of our report to include youth populations and additional adult populations. Our analyses found gradual declines in overall recidivism for all four populations from FY 1995–FY 2014. However, examination of recidivism trends by type of recidivism, type of initial offense, and demographic characteristics indicate that changes in trends varied across sub-populations.
The 2013 Washington State Legislature passed a bill to facilitate the use of evidence-based programs in adult corrections. The legislature directed WSIPP to define the terms “evidence-based” and “research-based” and create an inventory of adult corrections programs classified as evidence-based or research-based. WSIPP produced the first inventory of evidence-based and research-based programs for adult corrections in 2013. This is an update to the original inventory, classifying an additional 30 programs, for a total of 57 programs.
The 2016 Washington State Legislature created the Statewide Reentry Council with the goals of reducing recidivism and improving other outcomes for people who return to the community after incarceration. This legislation also directed WSIPP to examine the effectiveness of reentry programs through a systematic review of the research literature. Using WSIPP’s standardized procedures, we examined 59 programs to estimate their average effectiveness in reducing recidivism and improving other outcomes. In this report, we describe our meta-analytic and benefit-cost findings for these programs.
The 2013 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to develop a risk assessment for patients in the state’s involuntary mental health treatment system. In Washington State, formal risk assessments have been used to predict the risk of criminal recidivism among juvenile and adult offenders. This report finds that the existing Static Risk Assessment (SRA), used by courts and corrections in Washington for criminal populations, can also serve as a valid tool for determining the level of risk for adults with involuntary civil commitments and forensic competency evaluations. Results indicate that the adapted SRA described in this report has reasonable predictive accuracy for both the civil and forensic populations.
The 2014 Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to examine the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) for offenders sentenced to residential treatment in the community. Residential DOSA was created by the 2005 Legislature as an alternative to prison for offenders with substance abuse problems. When ordered by a court, an offender’s sentence is reduced in exchange for completing chemical dependency treatment. When possible, WSIPP conducts benefit-cost analysis to understand the long-term impacts of policies. In addition to residential DOSA’s effect on recidivism, research indicates that crime is avoided through confinement, known as “incapacitation.” We cannot empirically estimate the extent to which a residential treatment facility itself incapacitates offenders. Thus, we are unable to determine the degree to which the benefits from the favorable recidivism reduction of residential DOSA would be offset by the increased costs of non-confinement.
The 2009 Legislature required the Department of Corrections (DOC) to use a risk assessment, recommended by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), which has the highest predictive accuracy for recidivism.
To complete this task, WSIPP employed a systematic research approach. We reviewed the research literature on risk assessments and found five that have been tested on adult offenders in Washington. Among the five options, our review indicates that, to date, the Static Risk and Offender Needs Guide-Revised (STRONG-R) has the highest predictive accuracy of criminal recidivism.