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WA DOC Gets $745,366,000

In the August, 1995, issue of PLN we discussed the myriad anti-prisoner and -defendant legislation passed by the Washington State legislature in its 1995 session. The 1995 session was the longest in state history, running several months past its scheduled closing. Because the legislature squandered its time and resources on such pressing issues as prison weight lifting it did not pass a budget until the end of the session. The Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB) received $2,285,000 for the 1995-97 biennium. So rumors to the contrary, the ISRB will be with us for at least another two years.

In 1993-95 the WA DOC received $680 million in operating funds. For 1995-97 the DOC received its largest budget in history, getting $745,366,000, which constitutes 4.5% of the state's total budget. This is despite all the talk about budget cutting and cost saving in the prison system on the backs of prisoners. Barely addressed by the budget or any legislation is the fact that 72% of the DOC's budget goes to pay staff salaries/benefits and that the Washington DOC has the second highest staff to prisoner ratio, 1 staff to 1.8 prisoners, in the country. The budget states that the DOC "shall accomplish personnel reductions with the least possible impact on correctional custody staff, community custody staff, and correctional industries." It is unlikely any trimming of the bureaucratic pork at DOC headquarters will take place.

In breaking down the budget, the DOC's institutional services will get $538,443,000 and community corrections will get $161,694,000; correctional industries will get $6,833,000 with interagency payments of $12,446,000. Specific funds were appropriated for the following projects: $11.7 million to pay for an increase in the DOC's prison population, which is forecast to grow by 1,177 prisoners to a total of 12,430 at the end of 1997; $15.5 million for community corrections prisoners which is expected to grow by 6,930 people to total 56,820 active cases; $1.4 million to bring another 512 beds at Airway Heights on line in January, 1997; $1.9 million to open a 40 bed work release in Kitsap county; $524 thousand to open a pre-release in Yakima; $2 million for medical inflation; $2.1 million is specifically designated for medical care at Purdy to meet the DOC's court imposed medical duties [See PLN, Vol. 6, No. 4]; $4.7 million to pay for increased sentences as a result of I-159 (hard time for armed crime) and HB 2010; $352 thousand is provided to hook up Monroe and WCCW prisons to city water supplies.

The DOC budget envisions about $15 million in "savings." Much of this is nothing more than accounting sleight of hand, such as eliminating the state capitol vehicle parking account; shifting funding for the TRCC sex offender treatment program from the general fund to the Violence Reduction and Drug Enforcement Account; costs associated with the commissary and extended family visits are moved from the general fund to the Institutional Welfare/Betterment Account; and emergency travel funds given to the DOC in 1993-95 are shifted to a different account. So on paper these "shifts" will result in some $3 million in "savings", of course the money will still be spent, just from different accounts.

Some areas of funding are specifically reduced. The budget states it will reduce by 50% funding for prisoner recreation services which is a cut of $3.03 million; $222 thousand reduction for religious and psychiatric services; funding for drug treatment was reduced by $1.7 million. Some of the "savings"are merely projected or hoped for with no real likelihood any such savings will in fact materialize. $590 thousand was a projected savings to contract out drug testing and to reduce the frequency of drug tests; $192 thousand in consolidating the WSR and TRCC mailrooms and consolidating external prisoner transport at those facilities; $330 thousand from requiring prisoners to pay $3 each time they seek medical attention; $500 thousand in so called "health care cost containment" which includes "application of reimbursement methodologies, inpatient hospital bill audits," etc.; and $1.2 million in so-called "education efficiencies" where prisoners are made to pay for their schooling.

Some of the "savings"are merely delaying expenses. $4.4 million is to be saved by not hiring community corrections staff four months than earlier projected; $2.6 million by decreasing the frequency of contacts community corrections officers (i.e. parole officers) have with their charges; $1.5 million by reducing tower staffing; $1.9 million by changing the classification of two MICC units from medium custody to so called "long term minimum" custody prisoners. It should be realized that prisoners' classification levels are solely for the DOC's benefit in determining staffing levels at various facilities.

To put the current DOC budget into perspective, in 1983-85 the DOC budget was $282 million for some 7,000 prisoners. In 1999-2000 the DOC projects a $946 million budget. Readers should note that these figures include only the DOC's operational budget. Its building budget for the construction of new prisons is a separate account for which it is projected to receive an average of $130 million per biennium from 1995 through 1999.

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