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Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce Crime and Criminal Justice Costs: Implications in Washington State

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Elizabeth Drake, Steve Aos, Marna Miller - April 2009

In 2006, long-term forecasts indicated that Washington faced the need to construct several new prisons in the following two decades. Since new prisons are costly, the legislature directed the Institute to project whether there are “evidence-based” options that can reduce the future need for prison beds, save money for state and local taxpayers, and contribute to lower crime rates. As part of a systematic review of the research evidence, we found and analyzed 545 comparison-group evaluations of adult corrections, juvenile corrections, and prevention programs to determine what works, if anything, to reduce crime. We then estimated the benefits and costs of many of these evidence-based options and found that some evidence-based programs produce favorable returns on investment. This paper presents our findings and describes our meta-analytic and economic methods.

Report ID: 09-00-1201
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New Risk Instrument for Offenders Improves Classification Decisions

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Elizabeth Drake, Robert Barnoski - March 2009

The 1999 Offender Accountability Act (OAA) affects how the Department of Corrections (DOC) supervises convicted felony offenders in the community. The Institute was directed by the legislature to evaluate the OAA. The OAA requires DOC to supervise offenders according to their risk for future offending, which is estimated using instruments that classify offenders into groups with similar characteristics.

The Institute developed a "static risk" instrument, which DOC began using as part of its Risk Level Classification (RLC) system in 2008. This new system replaced DOC's previous Risk Management Identification (RMI) system, which had been in use since the OAA was implemented. Comparing recidivism rates of offenders classified under the new RLC and the old RMI systems, this report finds the new system to have better predictive accuracy than the prior system.

Report ID: 09-03-1201
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The Dangerous Mentally Ill Offender Program: Four-Year Felony Recidivism and Cost Effectiveness

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Jim Mayfield - February 2009

In 1999, legislation was passed to better identify and provide additional mental health treatment for mentally ill offenders who were released from prison, who pose a threat to public safety, and agree to participate in the program. A “Dangerous Mentally Ill Offender” (DMIO) is defined by the legislation as a person with a mental disorder who has been determined to be dangerous to self or others.

As part of its legislative mandate, the Institute has published a series of reports that evaluate the DMIO program. Reports published in 2005, 2007, and 2008 demonstrated that the DMIO program significantly reduced felony recidivism, and this 2009 follow-up report finds that reductions in felony recidivism were sustained at the 4-year mark. The benefit-cost analysis in this report indicates that the reductions in DMIO recidivism generated greater financial benefits than program costs—a ratio of approximately $1.64 in benefits for every public dollar spent.

Report ID: 09-02-1901
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Increasing Earned Release from Prison: Impacts of 2003 Law on Recidivism and Criminal Justice Costs

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Elizabeth Drake, Robert Barnoski - November 2008

The 2003 Washington State Legislature passed a bill that increased “earned release time” for certain types of offenders. The bill authorizes the Washington State Department of Corrections to release eligible offenders earlier if they have demonstrated good behavior in prison.

The 2003 Legislature directed the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to evaluate whether the enacted changes in earned release have affected recidivism rates. This report is divided into four sections: background information,evaluation design, recidivism findings, and cost-benefit analysis.

Report ID: 08-11-1201
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Risk Assessment Instruments to Predict Recidivism of Sex Offenders: Practices in Washington State

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Tali Klima, Roxanne Lieb - June 2008

This paper reviews policies and practices regarding assessment of sex offenders for risk of reoffense among public agencies and private treatment providers in Washington State. Specifically, we reviewed the use of risk assessment instruments, which gauge the likelihood that individual sex offenders will reoffend.

We found that a diverse set of instruments are employed by public and private entities in making decisions about sex offenders. These decisions include sentencing, facility assignment, treatment, release, public notification, and community supervision. As expected, there was greater variability in risk assessment practices among private treatment providers than public agencies.

Report ID: 08-06-1101
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Community Notification as Viewed by Washington's Citizens: A 10-Year Follow-Up

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Roxanne Lieb, Corey Nunlist - March 2008

The 1990 Legislature directed the Institute to evaluate the effectiveness of the Community Protection Act. As part of this evaluation, the Institute contracted in 1997 with the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC) at Washington State University to conduct telephone interviews with a sample of Washington State residents regarding the community notification provisions of the Community Protection Act.

In 2007, the Institute again contracted with SESRC to conduct a nearly identical survey and learn how responses may have changed. The results from both surveys indicate that the vast majority of Washington State residents are familiar with Washington’s community notification law and consider the law very important.

Report ID: 08-03-1101
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The Dangerous Mentally Ill Offender Program: Three-Year Felony Recidivism and Cost Effectiveness

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Jim Mayfield, David Lovell - February 2008

In 1999, legislation was passed to better identify and provide additional mental health treatment for mentally ill offenders who were released from prison, who pose a threat to public safety, and agree to participate in the program. A “Dangerous Mentally Ill Offender” (DMIO) is defined by the legislation as a person with a mental disorder who has been determined to be dangerous to self or others.

As part of its legislative mandate, the Institute has published a series of reports that evaluate the DMIO program. Reports published in 2005 and 2007 demonstrated that the DMIO program significantly reduced felony recidivism, and this 2008 follow-up report finds that reductions in felony recidivism were sustained at the 3-year mark. The benefit-cost analysis in this report indicates that the reductions in DMIO recidivism generated greater financial benefits than program costs.

Report ID: 08-02-1901
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Drug Offender Sentencing Grid: Preliminary Report

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Elizabeth Drake - January 2008

The Institute was directed by the 2002 Legislature to evaluate the effectiveness of the drug offense sentencing grid implemented in 2003. This preliminary report discusses changes in the sentencing grid and outlines our research design for the final report due in December 2008. In the final report, we will evaluate the effectiveness of the drug offense grid on recidivism and determine the financial impacts.

Report ID: 08-01-1201
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Does Participation in Washington's Work Release Facilities Reduce Recidivism?

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Elizabeth Drake - November 2007

The 2007 Legislature directed the Institute to evaluate whether participation in Washington’s work release facilities impacts key outcomes, such as recidivism. The Institute was also directed to conduct a comprehensive review of all research evidence on work releases.

Report ID: 07-11-1201
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Washington State Criminal Records Audit for Adult Felonies: Final Report

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Elizabeth Drake, Laura Harmon, Robert Barnoski - October 2007

In 2005, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) obtained grant funding and contracted with the Institute to conduct an audit of Washington State's criminal history records systems for adult felonies. Databases included in the audit are from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), Department of Corrections (DOC), Sentencing Guidelines Commission (SGC), and Washington State Patrol (WSP). The audit focuses on the completeness and accuracy of Washington's criminal history data system.

Our findings demonstrate that, although the state's criminal justice databases are not 100 percent accurate and complete, they are reasonably accurate. The databases can be improved by relying on: fingerprints for offender identification, electronic transmission of data without manual intervention, and a multi-agency criminal records work group to implement improvements.

Report ID: 07-10-1901
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