We can reduce that number.
As in most states, the prison population in Washington has exploded in recent decades.
Between 1980 and 2016, the state’s prison population increased by 332 percent. By December 2018, 19,369 people were imprisoned in Washington. Absent reform, the number of people under the state’s jurisdiction in prison and work release facilities is projected to increase by 2.2 percent by 2021.
In 2015, drug offenses accounted for 22 percent of admissions to prison in Washington. Property offenses accounted for another 30 percent of new admissions. The number of readmissions increased by 14 percent between 2007 and 2017, and 32 percent of people released from Washington prisons in 2014 returned to a DOC institution within three years.
Unsurprisingly, Washington’s mass incarceration crisis has had an enormous impact on people on people of color, especially American Indian/Alaskan Native Adults. The number of American Indian/Alaskan Natives imprisoned in Washington grew by 44 percent between 2000 and 2015. In 2017, the imprisonment rate of Black adults in the state was 5.3 times that of white adults.
The population of women in Washington prisons is also growing at an alarming rate: Between 1980 and 2016, the number of women incarcerated in the state has grown by 764 percent. This increase has far outpaced the growth of the total prison population, which increased 332 percent over the same period.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Washington can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
- Invest in the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion pre-booking diversion program for drug offenses.
- Continue to expand access to Medicaid in the state to increase substance use and mental health treatment.
- Give judges the power to impose non-incarceration sentences.
- Reduce pretrial detention and the use of cash bail.
- Reduce sentence lengths and enhancements through sentencing reform and post-conviction review.
For more information, along with detailed breakdowns of Washington’s prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.