Washington State law-enforcement officials are warning of trouble as prisons rush to meet a new state law that will let hundreds of low-risk inmates out of prison early as a way to save money, starting today, the Seattle Times reports. The Legislature passed Senate Bill 5990 just before adjournment in April as lawmakers wrestled with closing a $2.65-billion budget deficit. The law is expected to save $40 million in the next two years by eliminating supervision for certain nonviolent offenders after release, and letting others out early by increasing time off for good behavior.
The state plans to release about 280 inmates this week.
Prosecutors and county sheriffs, among others, oppose early releases. “I think we’re asking for trouble,” Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart said. “If the people who are released start to re-offend at a regular rate, you’ll see a lot of outcry, ‘Why did you let this happen?’ ” The inmates being released are considered at low risk of committing a violent crime. Some could have up to six months lopped off their sentences, but most will have them cut by one to three months.
Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys argues that the change in how prison time is calculated makes it harder for the public to understand how much time someone will actually serve. “Why not just say we’re only going to give you 30 months and say it up front? For the system to be accountable, you have to understand what it does,” McBride said. “If you take somebody who has committed seven felonies in a row and let them out earlier, what are they going to do? Commit number eight.” King County Sheriff Dave Reichert said, “I think it’s a first step to going down a road that will take us decades to recover from.”