The state Department of Corrections is taking a new “swift and certain” approach to violations, after evidence has shown that throwing people in jail for a long amount of time doesn’t correct criminal behavior.
Offenders being supervised by community corrections officers will now find themselves in jail for up to three days if they violate the terms of their probation — rather than waiting for a violation hearing and risking being jailed for up to 90 days.
“We do the public a disservice when we put offenders in jail for 90 days and release them homeless,” said Ron Pedersen, field administrator for Central Washington.
Putting them in jail for a short time right away means they can get back out and still have their homes, jobs and support system.
“From an offender point of view, whether it’s one to three days or 30 days, it’s the inconvenience of going to jail that is a factor,” Pedersen said.
The change is mandated by a new law that went into effect June 1, which also includes a behavioral modification requirement to help change offenders’ behavior.
Community corrections officers and supervisors are being trained to teach new cognitive behavior therapy classes, which are aimed to address the behaviors that caused offenders to get into trouble and help them make better choices.
“We’re trying to help increase public safety by trying to teach offenders how to change their behavior and acting swiftly,” he said.
In Benton and Franklin counties, the changes affect about 650 offenders being supervised by 24 community corrections officers.
Two prisons — Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell and Airway Heights Corrections Centers near Spokane — also have started the Thinking For a Change pilot program with a select group of prisoners.
The goal is to eventually expand the program to all prisons in the state, and once offenders get released, they can continue the therapy through their supervision, officials said.
“It’s custom-tailored to each offender. The goal is to help that offender change who they are because how they came to be is a major contributor to their behavior,” said Pedersen, who supervises probation officers and supervisors in 11 counties, including Benton and Franklin counties. “We want to address the underlying behavior to reduce the behavior that led to their crime.”
The behavior-modification classes are expected to begin in late fall or early winter, he said.
With the new swift-and-certain sanctions, offenders know right from the start of their supervision what is expected of them and what will happen if they have a violation, Pedersen said.
In the past, offenders who have low-level violations, such as leaving the county without permission or having a dirty drug test, could end up with just a warning or wait up to two weeks for a violation hearing to find out what their punishment is.
Now, they know they’ll immediately get put in jail for the violation — there’s no waiting to find out what will happen, he said. After the fifth violation, however, they’ll have a full violation hearing and face confinement for up to 30 days.
“If they’re incarcerated for 30 days or less, it increases the chance of the offender not being a drain to society because you’re not putting them in jail long enough for them to forget what they need to do,” Pedersen said.
And, reducing the length of time people are being held in jail means the Department of Corrections is saving money. Pedersen said a “significant savings,” estimated to be in the millions, is expected.
Any new criminal behavior or violations that amount to a felony offense will be referred to prosecutors for charges.
It’s too soon to have statistics on the changes by the “swift and certain” sanctions, but Pedersen said he’s already seen a drop in violations since it started June 1.
“It really is a dynamic new approach. I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and I believe it’s going to make a difference,” he said. “My instincts and training tell me it’s gong to work and it’s going to save money.”
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org