Category Archives: Jail/Prison Issues

MAP: When they get out of prison, where do offenders go to live?

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To see the map, go here:

In 2007, the Department of Corrections embarked on a transformation in the way it releases offenders to the community. Ordered by the State Legislature to stop “dumping” felons into Tacoma, Spokane, and other pockets of urbanity in the state, DOC was mandated to send prisoners back to their “county of origin” — the place of their first felony conviction.

There are some exceptions, mainly if victims are uneasy about an offenders’ return to the community. But they can also go to another county if they have family or “other sponsoring persons or organizations that will support the offender.”

In 2012, about three out of every four inmates whose first felony was in Kitsap come back here after prison, according to DOC statistics.

While they’re coming back to Kitsap, it appears they’re increasingly concentrated in Bremerton. But corrections officials say that clustering actually serves public safety best.

To search and find out where every offender went home to in 2012 — and if they deviated from their county of origin — follow this link.

Reporters notebook: More trials this week

Here’s a few odds and ends for this week in the world of crime and justice.

Old prisons, from famous ones such as Alcatraz to less-known small state facilities, are becoming tourist attractions and drawing a growing number of visitors, operators say.

I wonder if our own McNeil Island will soon become an Alcatraz-like tourist trap.

One in three, arrested by 23

A fascinating, if troubling, study released Monday finds that one in three young people will be arrested by age 23.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests growth in the “arrest record” population of the United States. From the New York Times report:

The study, the first since the 1960s to look at the arrest histories of a national sample of adolescents and young adults over time, found that 30.2 percent of the 23-year-olds who participated reported having been arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation.

The study, at first glance, makes me wonder: Are there more arrests because there are more cops and criminal justice infrastructure today, or because more young people are law-breaking?  Legendary criminologist Alfred Blumstein said in USA Today that “the increase in arrests for young people in the latest study is unsurprising given several decades of tough crime policies.

“I was astonished 44 years ago. Most people were,” says Blumstein, a professor of operations research at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University who served with Christensen on President Lyndon Johnson’s crime task force.

Now, Blumstein says, youth may be arrested for drugs and domestic violence, which were unlikely offenses to attract police attention in the 1960s. “There’s a lot more arresting going on now,” he says.

My second curiosity is what the study, if accurate, means for our society. Such widespread exposure to our bulky criminal justice system might not be a bad thing — it might steer an otherwise law-abiding citizen from a lapse in judgement later on. Then again, acclimation to the criminal justice system could also desensitize the experience and actually decrease someone’s fear of law-breaking.

‘What are you in for?’ Assault, sex convicts the most common inmates in Washington’s prisons

Were you to check in for a stay at one of the state’s prisons tomorrow (which I hope you do not have to do), chances are great your bunkmate would have landed behind bars due to a sex or violent crime. 

More than 70 percent of more than 16,000 inmates are in for one of those types of offenses, according to data Washington state Department of Corrections Secretary Bernard Warner presented last week before the state senate’s ways and means committee.

Warner, there to educate lawmakers about the dire choices they may have to make amidst the state’s newest budget shortfall, brought with him some interesting stats, including the pie chart you see below.

You may have seen in Saturday’s edition of the Kitsap Sun our story about the cuts. What Warner presented isn’t pretty:

“A five percent cut (to corrections) would mean releasing all inmates but convicts of sexual and violent offenses 120 days early and a reduction on average in community supervision from 16 to six months. In concert with other cuts, it would mean more than $81 million in trimmings from the budget.

A 10 percent cut would mean releasing all inmates but convicts of sexual offenses 120 days early and almost the complete elimination of community supervision for just about all inmates. Combined with other cuts, it would bring down the budget more than $163 million.”

On felons’ likelihood of going back to prison, there’s good news and bad news

Anyone interested in how often felons return to prison after doing time should give a thorough reading to a report released last week by The Pew Center on the States.

The results for Washington state aren’t particularly encouraging on their face: while 32.8 percent of offenders went back to prison between 1999 and 2002, 42.9 percent made a return behind bars between 2004 and 2007. However, it depends on how you read the numbers, corrections officials here say.

Washington houses about 17,000 offenders in 12 prisons around the state. Seventy percent of inmates are in for a violent crime, according to the Department of Corrections.

Corrections officials say the state would have a lower recidivism rate if we incarcerated more low-level felons, such as drug offenders. But the state has chosen to save money instead of locking them up.

“We focus our resources on the state’s highest-risk offenders,” said DOC secretary Eldon Vail in a news release. “Our recidivism rate would be even lower if we incarcerated more low-risk offenders, but that’s not what’s best for public safety.”

The state’s Department of Corrections focused in on the changes from 1999 to 2004, which showed a decline in recidivism.  Here’s the news release:

OLYMPIA — A study conducted by the Pew Center on the States found that fewer offenders in Washington return to prison after they complete their sentence. It also found that more Washington offenders who are supervised in the community are placed into custody when they violate the terms of their supervision.

“Both trend lines are going in the right direction for public safety,” said Eldon Vail, Secretary of the Department of Corrections. “The Pew study reinforces what other studies have shown, which is that the work we’ve done in Washington to reduce recidivism in prisons is paying off.”

The study, titled “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons,” found that between 1999 and 2004 the rate at which offenders in Washington return to prison for committing a new felony within three years declined from 27 percent to 23 percent. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy defines recidivism differently than Pew does, but both show the trend line for recidivism in Washington is on the decline.

“What’s interesting here is that the recidivism rate declined even as the offender population became higher risk to commit a new crime,” Vail said. “It shows that the work our staff has done to prepare offenders to be successful once they complete their prison sentence is making a difference.”

Washington ranks 42nd in the nation for incarceration, meaning it confines a relatively small number of people. About 70 percent of offenders in Washington prisons are serving time for a violent crime. About half of the remaining 30 percent have previously been convicted of a violent crime.

“We focus our resources on the state’s highest-risk offenders,” Vail said. “Our recidivism rate would be even lower if we incarcerated more low-risk offenders, but that’s not what’s best for public safety.”

The Pew study notes a national trend of increased incarceration over the past 30 years, but Washington did not follow the national trend. Due in large part to sentencing alternatives for drug offenders and guidance from the state Sentencing Guideline Commission, Washington’s prison population did not increase at the same rate as most other states.

Washington currently houses about 17,000 offenders in 12 prisons. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has estimated that Washington’s prison population would be about 25,000 today had if it had kept up with the national incarceration trend.

“The prison population in our state didn’t soar along with the rest of the nation because our lawmakers passed laws that made the public safer, not laws that only put more people in prison,” Vail said.

Prisons Director Bernie Warner noted the recommendations in the Pew study – measuring and rewarding progress, beginning reentry efforts on an offender’s first day in prison and optimizing supervision resources – are actions that Washington has taken for years.

“We’ve known for years that focusing on reentry makes the public safer,” Warner said. “That’s why we’ve made it such a priority in our agency.”

Meanwhile, the percentage of offenders who are confined for violating the terms of their community supervision increased from 6 percent to 19 percent. That is due in large part to a state law that went into effect in 2000 that created a hearing process led by the Department of Corrections so that offenders would not have to go back through the courts when they are accused of violations.

“The purpose of that law was to help us hold offenders more accountable for their actions while they are on are community supervision, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Anmarie Aylward, Assistant Secretary of the Community Corrections Division.

Family, Friends of Slain Kitsap Deputy Take to Facebook to Protest Killer’s Parole

The possible parole of the man who killed Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputy Dennis Allred in 1978 has galvanized his family and friends to organize on Facebook.

A page has begun to rally support to keep Nedley G. Norman in prison long after his parole hearing later this year. Note: you may have to be logged in to see the page.

Here’s what Gina Vinecourt, Allred’s daughter, wrote about the page:

“This page was created in an effort to gain support to keep my dad’s killer in prison. His killer was convicted and sentenced to death in October 1978. Since then, due to changes in the law he went from being on death row, to life without possibility of parole, and finally to a minimum 600 months (50 years) to life.

After serving 33 years, the killer is up for parole in July 2011, due to the “justice system”. Please join us in gathering as many signatures from residents of Washington State-letting the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board know we want this killer to remain in prison for the minimum term of 50 years to life.

A link to the petition is available to download. If you decide to help in this cause, please e-mail me with your information. I would like to keep track of those involved and making sure we gather all petitions that are filled out. Please forward the petitions to me by June 13, 2011-to make sure there is enough time for presentation to the Board.

This effort is open to all citizens, not only Law Enforcement. This killer’s release not only affects me, my family, and law enforcement members, but everyone in our community.

Thank you for your help in my fight.”

Here’s the way the Kitsap Sun characterized what happened:

“Around 11 p.m. April 19, 1978, along a rare flat stretch of Illahee-Brownsville Road, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Allred became the only law-enforcement official killed in the line of duty in Kitsap County.

Allred had stopped a truck towing an engineless car. As he spoke with two occupants of the truck, James Stemkowski and Steve Richards, an unseen third occupant, Nedley G. Norman, shot Allred twice in the chest and then walked to his fallen body and delivered a fatal shot to the head.

The trio, who were towing a stolen car, fled the scene but the next day, Stemkowski turned himself in, breaking the case.

It was a killing that shocked Kitsap County. A member of the sheriff’s department for less than three years, Allred’s funeral in Bremerton drew representatives from law enforcement agencies throughout the state and country, as well as thousands of local residents.

Stemkowski and Richards pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and were sentenced to long prison terms. Because emotions were so high, Norman, 24, received a change of venue and was tried in Pierce County. He was found guilty and, on Aug. 30, 1978, was sentenced to death.”

That death sentence began a life sentence and then, that life sentence became a possible parole sentence.

Purdy Prison: Should Inmates Raise Children Behind Bars?

The “Residential Parenting Program” at Washington’s largest women’s prison in Purdy is turning heads of criminal justice officials around the nation.

The program allows non-violent, brief sentence offenders with young children to keep their young behind bars with them. A pioneering if controversial approach, no doubt, but one supported by the Department of Corrections because of the desire to break the strong likelihood that the children of felons will too commit crimes in their own lives.

A great report by Melissa Luck with Spokane’s KXLY4 explains one woman’s story:

When she got to the (Washington Corrections Center for Women), she was in the general population. Then, she found out she qualified for the Residential Parenting Program, where she could keep Deegan while serving her 31-month sentence.

“We’re promoting a healthy bond between incarcerated women and their children,” explained Sonja Alley, who supervises the program. On the day we visited last week, the RPP housed 10 women and 10 kids, with the youngest child just two weeks old.

Sheri Pam’s son Quincey is 20-months old, the oldest in the unit right now. Pam is serving time for Second Degree Robbery; she was six months pregnant when she was sentenced. Like every room in the unit, Pam’s room has a bed for her, a bed for Quincey and the toys and books you’d see in any toddler’s room. Women here have to meet strict criteria to qualify: they have to be minimum-security offenders, CPS history is considered and mental health is evaluated.

While there are exceptions, the women typically have to be serving a sentence of 30 months or less. It’s a short time in prison terms, but a lifetime for these infants and toddlers. The program is designed to keep moms and babies from ever coming back.

“Children of incarcerated parents are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves,” Alley explained. “So, we’re really trying to break that chain.”

I’d suggest reading about the back story on Luck’s blog as well. And I’d welcome your thoughts about this program.

GOOD TIME: The Math Behind the Problem

I’ve heard from a number of people who’ve been confused about how the Kitsap County jail was miscalculating “good time” for inmates.

I have to admit that it took me a number of times to go over the math and get it right myself. But there is an eventual “light bulb” moment that takes place (I promise).

I got an email from reader Cary Edwards this morning. Cary, too, had the same issues I did when I learned about the error.

“I have read your story, ‘good time – bad math’, three times. I am still unclear on why kitsap county jails math was wrong,” he wrote.

So I wrote back with my best explanation.

“I completely understand how you’re confused by the math. I was too, and had to go over it dozens of times.

So, here’s the best explanation I can give you.

Keep in mind that he’s not done with his sentence. He has more time to serve in a state prison.

If a judge had sentenced him to 120 days, the jail would indeed divide that by three to get his “good time.” That means he’d serve 80 days, with 40 days of good time.

But here’s the deal: he’s already done 120 days.

So he needs to get an additional third to get his credit for time off for good behavior. How is that calculated?

By dividing by half, interestingly. But let’s come back to that in a moment.

Let’s say a judge gave someone an 180 day sentence. And they earned their full 1/3 off for good behavior. Divide 180 by 3, and you get 60. So the person would serve 120 days and be credited for 60 days of good time.

Now, if he’d done 120 days already, and had to go off to DOC prison to do more time, that means he’d get that additional third off (60).

To get to that amount mathematically, you would actually take 120 and divided by two (not three) which would give you 60 days of good time — the correct amount.


I also heard from reader Gerry Warren, who did get the math. In fact, he provides an alternative in calculating it:

“Another way to calculate it is to times it by 1.5

Joe serves 15 days. He is credited for good behavior using the 1/3rd rule

15 is 66.66666% of what number? Answer: 22.5

22.5 X .666666 = 15. 15 times what equals 22.5? Answer 1.5. 22.5 divided by 15 = 1.5

Robert Pierce’s 213 days served: 213 X 1.5 = 319.5

Whatever fraction or percentage you use you can figure out the constant for that fraction or percentage (e.g. 1.5 for 1/3)”

I’d like to hear back from others about how they handled the math. Was it confusing? Did it make sense?

GOOD TIME: The Jail’s Policy and the Supreme Court’s 1993 Decision

To take a look at the Kitsap County jail’s old and updated policies on earned release time, scroll below.

I have also posted the landmark ‘good time’ decision by the Washington Supreme Court that directs how Department of Corrections and the local jails work to calculate good time.

Kitsap County’s old and revised ‘good time’ policies

1993 Supreme Court Decision: In Re: Williams

GOOD TIME: ‘I Just Want It Fixed’

Mail from inmates at county jails and state and federal prisons is common in newsrooms, as those on the inside look to reporters to help with legal battles or civil rights violations.

The same is true here at the Kitsap Sun. We review such mail — honestly, word for word — to see if there’s an injustice being done, however big or small. In many cases, the complaints don’t quite add up. In some, a quick phone call or email to the right person is all that’s needed. But sometimes, an inmate raises a concern that calls on us to tell a story.

In May, I got such a letter. His name was Robert “Doug” Pierce, who you can read about in Sunday’s paper or online here. The Kitsap County jail had miscalculated his time off for good behavior — and he was right.

“I just want it fixed so I can come home to my family after my debt is paid to society in full,” Pierce wrote in his letter.

Pierce’s discovery was not only overlooked at the jail and lawyers in the system but at the Department of Corrections — and it set the stage for a change in policy at the Kitsap County jail.

In doing the story, I wanted to examine all aspects of how good time is awarded. Thus, what you’ll find is an explanation of how it works at all levels — federal, state and each of the 39 county jails — and why it is administered in the first place. That included working with and submitting records requests to each of the state’s 37 jails.

We also stumbled upon another interesting facet: that the state’s sunseting of a 50 percent off provision for good time went virtually unnoticed by anyone outside the system.

For the results of our work, click here.