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Legal Financial Obligations in Washington State: Final Report

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Paige Wanner, Morgan Spangler, Nathan Adams, Devin Bales - December 2022

The 2021 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to study legal financial obligations (LFOs). This is the second report in a two-part series.

For the final report, WSIPP used administrative data from multiple Washington State sources to describe the level of criminal LFO impositions, adjustments, and payments made annually at all court levels.

Additionally, WSIPP completed the following:

  • Reviewed Washington State policies implemented since December 2021;
  • Discussed court budgets and the flow of LFO dollars through the criminal justice system;
  • Described the level of funding attributed to LFO accounts and earmarked for use in programming; and
  • Described legislation and policy changes completed by other states that aim to delink court funding from the collection of LFOs.

We found that available LFO data are limited. As a result, patterns in the data over time cannot be identified. Further, the data do not allow us to trace dollars from the collection to expenditure. More consistent data collection and reporting across courts may assist efforts to identify patterns over time in the future. A preliminary report covering LFO background, state statutes that impose LFOs, and a 50-state review of court funding and LFOs was released in December 2021 and can be found here.

Report ID: 22-12-1902
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Washington State’s Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative: Introduction to the Series

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Lauren Knoth-Peterson, Katelyn Kelley - November 2022

In Washington State, individuals convicted of certain offenses may be eligible to receive a sentencing alternative called the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). Established in 1995 and modified several times over the last 25 years, DOSA allows individuals to serve some or all of their standard prison sentence under community supervision instead of spending the entire sentence incarcerated. This sentencing alternative requires that individuals participate in substance use treatment programs based on their assessed needs and comply with behavioral requirements while incarcerated and/or during community supervision.

In 2020, the Washington State Legislature further expanded DOSA and directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to analyze its effectiveness in reducing recidivism compared to standard sentencing. The directive requires WSIPP to update its evaluation in 2028 and every five years thereafter. This report introduces the forthcoming report series by describing the development of DOSA over time and reviewing prior evaluations of DOSA’s effectiveness.

Report ID: 22-11-1902
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Washington State’s Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative: 2022 Outcome Evaluation

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Lauren Knoth-Peterson, Katelyn Kelley - November 2022

In Washington State, some individuals convicted of a criminal offense may be eligible to receive a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) in lieu of the standard incarceration sentence.

Using administrative data from the Department of Corrections and WSIPP’s Criminal History Database, this study examined whether individuals participating in prison or residential DOSA were less likely to recidivate compared to similar individuals who received a non-DOSA sentence.

Our findings indicate the prison DOSA reduces the likelihood of recidivism by 6.9 percentage points. These reductions in recidivism were consistent across subgroups by sex, race, and ethnicity.

Our findings for residential DOSA were less conclusive. In general, residential DOSA had no effect on the likelihood of recidivism compared to a standard sentence. While we provide several potential explanations for the differences in the effectiveness of prison and residential DOSA, future research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms by which the two DOSA programs impact individuals’ outcomes, including recidivism.

Report ID: 22-11-1903
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Washington State's Reentry Community Services Program: Background and Study Outline

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Lauren Knoth-Peterson, Corey Whichard - November 2022

For the last 20 years, Washington State has provided unique reentry services for individuals who are at high-risk for recidivism and who have a mental illness. The Reentry Community Services Program (RCSP) provides eligible individuals with coordinated pre- and post-release services to assist with reentry. Individuals are eligible to receive 60 months of mental health services and housing assistance. Additional services are provided on an individual basis depending on need and the availability of resources.

Prior research shows that compared to similar individuals who do not receive these services, RCSP participants are more likely to access mental health services in the community, more likely to access social welfare services during reentry, less likely to require inpatient hospitalization after release, and less likely to recidivate. In addition, research finds that the program achieves these outcomes in a cost-beneficial way.

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to update its evaluation of the RCSP, examine the potential expansion of the program, and investigate additional therapeutic components to further support individuals’ reentry to the community.

This preliminary report reviews prior research on the RCSP and provides an outline of the approach WSIPP intends to take for its final report to be published in November 2023.

Report ID: 22-11-1901
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Mandatory Arrest for Domestic Violence: A Systematic Review

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Marna Miller, Katelyn Kelley - June 2022

Washington State law requires that, given probable cause, police must make an arrest when called to a domestic violence (DV) incident. The 2021 Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to conduct a systematic review of the research on mandatory arrest in DV cases. We found no evidence that mandatory arrest is more effective than discretionary arrest at reducing future DV offenses. Specifically, we found six rigorous studies of the effect of mandatory arrest on DV recidivism. On average, across the studies, mandatory arrest had no effect on whether an individual committed a subsequent DV offense. Further, another study found that mandatory arrest laws did not affect a state’s prevalence of DV. A separate study found that mandatory arrest laws had no effect on DV homicide.

Report ID: 22-06-1201
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Washington Offender Needs Evaluation: Review and Examination of Reassessments

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Lauren Knoth-Peterson, Michael Hirsch - December 2021

In December 2017, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) implemented a new dynamic risk and needs assessment—the Washington Offender Needs Evaluation (Washington ONE). The Washington ONE is a dynamic risk and needs assessment used to inform case management for individuals under DOC jurisdiction.

The DOC contracted with WSIPP to review the literature on correctional risk assessments, including hierarchical classification systems. In addition, DOC asked WSIPP to examine the impact of reassessments on risk level classification changes since the instrument was introduced in 2017.

Our review of the literature found that the Washington ONE is generally consistent with national standards on the types of factors considered in the assessment. However, the hierarchical methods used to determine classifications are unique to Washington State. To date, information on the comparative accuracy of the Washington ONE is unavailable, but the report provides an overview of the national standards for reviewing accuracy and fairness in risk assessment instruments.

In general, most reassessments under the Washington ONE did not lead to a change in risk level classification (RLC). When reassessments did lead to a change, there were increases and decreases in RLC. Changes in RLC were driven by changes in many different domains. The report provides details about changes in RLC following reassessments by gender and by race.

Report ID: 21-12-1902
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Legal Financial Obligations in Washington State: Background, Statutes, and 50-State Review

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Devin Bales, Paige Wanner - December 2021

Upon conviction for a crime in a trial court in the U.S., an individual may incur monetary sanctions as part of their sentence. These monetary sanctions, which can include fines, fees, restitution, and any surcharges associated with their case are commonly known as legal financial obligations (LFOs). The 2021 Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to study LFOs.

In this preliminary report, WSIPP studied statutes that allow for the imposition of LFOs in Washington and how other states fund their court systems. The review of statutes found over 350 unique LFOs that can be imposed across Washington courts. Of those LFOs, four are mandatory for convictions in a superior court and three are mandatory for convictions in courts of limited jurisdiction. Our 50-state review of court funding and LFOs found that every state allows for the imposition of LFOs, but it is unclear how LFOs are connected to court funding in many states. The review also indicates that states operate and fund their court systems differently. Some rely more on state-level funding while others rely more heavily on local resources. Using 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data, we found that local funding accounts for a higher percentage of Washington’s judicial spending than in 41 other states. This report also provides a brief description of WSIPP’s intended research plan for the final report, due to the Legislature by December 1, 2022.

Report ID: 21-12-1901
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COVID-19 and Adult Criminal Justice: A Quantitative Look at Affected Systems

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Michael Hirsch - July 2021

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.

Report ID: 21-07-1901
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Postsecondary Program Participation and Completion Patterns Among Individuals Incarcerated in Washington State Prisons

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Lauren Knoth-Peterson, Danielle Fumia - June 2021

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.

Report ID: 21-06-1901
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Examining Washington State’s Sentencing Guidelines: A Report for the Criminal Sentencing Task Force

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Lauren Knoth-Peterson - May 2021

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.

Report ID: 21-05-1901
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