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WA Law Libraries Threatened; DOC Proposes Budget Cuts

On December 5, 2000, deputy DOC secretary Eldon Vail informed the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) executive staff and administrators of the DOC's 2001-03 biennium budget reduction package. The state of Washington has recently been subjected to conflicting ballot initiatives, which restrict state spending, eliminate car tabs as a significant source of tax revenue, increase education spending and mandate increased transportation spending. Governor Gary Locke asked all state agencies to include a 2% reduction in their 2001-03 budget proposals. On November 15, the DOC was asked to submit an additional 4% budget reduction. The 4% target was $42 million. Readers should note that the DOC's budget would actually increase over previous appropriations and continue its growth, just at a slower pace.

The DOC's proposed budget cuts are designed to be as politically unpalatable as possible and most are couched in terms of gloom and doom if implemented.

High on the list of budget cuts are Washington prison law libraries at 8 prisons. Closing the law libraries would save the state $596,000 per year, or $1.192 million per biennium. The DOC proposes to provide only forms as a means of court access for literate, English speaking prisoners and claims that its contract lawyers will provide court access for non English speaking and illiterate prisoners who can't fill out the forms. Since the DOC's contract lawyers rarely, if ever, provide direct representation and their contract precludes them from doing cases seeking money damages, class actions, etc., the elimination of law libraries will eliminate the only effective means of court access that Washington prisoners currently have. Not surprisingly, the DOC presents no downside to this proposal.

The other budget cutting proposals are eliminating vocational education programs for a biennial budget savings of $5.743 million. The DOC notes that eliminating the vocational educational programs that remain after its 1995 purge would increase idleness and "could cause an increase in assaults and other acts of violence within the institutions, resulting in an increase in injuries to both staff and offenders." The budget cut would eliminate 80 teaching positions.

Eliminating chemical dependency treatment for Washington prisoners would supposedly cut $4,034 from the biennial budget. Cutting half of Correctional Industries budget would save $1.826 million. Another proposal is expanding the placement of terminally ill prisoners in non-prison settings for medical care. The insignificance of this proposal is its projected savings of $200,000 for the biennium.

The biggest proposal is to supposedly implement statutory sentencing changes to retroactively reduce sentences for drug and property offenders to lower the DOC's daily average population by 525 prisoners. This would supposedly result in $20.025 million in savings. In terms of political reality, this is as likely to happen as the opening of a Dairy Queen in Hades.

On December 20, 2000, Governor Locke announced his proposed budget cuts for the DOC and only the law libraries and vocational education were on his hit list. PLN's Washington state subscribers have already been sent an action alert mailing concerning the attack on prison libraries. To become final the state legislature and governor muse approve the budget cuts. The amount of money involved in running Washington's prison law libraries is miniscule compared to the DOC's overall budget. The law libraries could easily be paid for from the Offender Betterment Fund, which the DOC currently operates as a slush fund to pay the salaries of chaplains, grievance coordinators,recreation staff and other assorted hangers on.

If the DOC were serious about cutting costs it would begin by trimming the pork in its bloated bureaucracy, releasing the thousands of Sentencing Reform Act prisoners being held past their release dates, the Indeterminate Sentence prisoners held long past their minimum terms/ prisoners seeking transfers to their native countries and restoring good time credits lost in disciplinary hearings. None of these measures would require statutory changes.

PLN readers are urged to contact Washington legislators, especially those on the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, and governor Locke to request that Washington's prison law libraries remain intact and if necessary that alternate funding be sought elsewhere. Governor Locke's address is:

Governor Gary Locke

P.O. Box 40002

Olympia, WA 98504-0002

(Phone) (360) 902-4111


Legislative contact information is available:

(or) 1-800-562-6000.

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