Washington State prison director Harold Clarke, acclaimed as one of the top U.S. corrections officials but a lightning rod in his home state, is leaving to become the top prison official in Massachusetts, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Clarke’s tenure has been marked by high-profile deaths of law enforcement officers at the hands of felons on community release. Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, has been repeatedly assailed by her Republican critics for the administration’s handling of prisons. Gregoire was distressed at being seen as bumbling on public safety issues. She served 12 years as Washington’s attorney general and has considered crime fighting one of her strong suits.
Clarke, who often referred to himself as a “change agent,” said that his mandate was to streamline Washington’s notoriously complex corrections system, and that doing so would naturally create controversy. “He had one major drawback as an administrator,” said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the union representing community corrections officers. “He was not really able to meet and engage with the people actually doing the work. That’s not a good quality. The Boston Globe reported that Gov. Deval Patrick offered Clarke the job with a mandate to revamp the prison agency there, with more emphasis on re-entry programs and staff training. Clarke is president-elect of the American Correctional Association. The Massachusetts system holds 11,000 inmates in 18 facilities and has a $500 million budget. Washington has 18,000 behind bars and 25,000 offenders under community supervision. The biennial budget is $1.8 billion.