Washington state’s prison population has become more violent, whiter and older in the past decade, reports the Associated Press. And while running the prison system eats up 5 percent of the state budget, there appear to be few places that funding can be cut without resorting to releasing inmates early, as some states have done.
Changes started in the 1980s have dramatically altered the state prison population. While Washington has a relatively small prison population — about 17,000 for a state of 6.6 million people — the percentage of inmates serving time for violent crimes is greater than the national average. Early release of some inmates to help reduce the projected $4.6 billion deficit in the next two-year state budget is being discussed by lawmakers. At a legislative hearing on Wednesday, Steve Aos of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy estimated that cutting 60 days off the sentence of low- and moderate-risk offenders could save the state $4.6 million a year, with just a 15 percent probability that crime would rise as a result.