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Seattle and DOC partner to reduce violations by offenders supervised in the community

Councilmember Tim Burgess

Seattle and DOC partner to reduce violations by offenders supervised in the community
Research-based pilot project shows that swift and certain, but modest, sanctions for violations are more effective at crime prevention

Seattle – In a briefing before the Seattle City Council this morning, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) released the preliminary results of a pilot program for offenders who are supervised in Seattle. Launched in February, 2011, the research-based program shows that swift and certain, but modest, sanctions are more effective in reducing drug use, crime and days spent in jail for violations of release conditions.

Researchers studied the violations of offenders who were randomly assigned to the pilot project called the Washington Intensive Supervision Program (WISP). In the first six months, offenders supervised under the intensive model were two-thirds less likely to test positive in randomly assigned drug tests than offenders in a control group. Seventy percent of the violations by offenders in the program occurred in the first 90 days and then dropped dramatically as DOC applied swifter, more certain sanctions, which can include short periods of confinement in King County Jail.

"The WISP model is so simple. It just makes sense,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess, Chair of the Council’s Public Safety and Education Committee. "Small penalties delivered quickly and consistently can change behavior more effectively than large penalties that come sporadically or not at all. The result is safer neighborhoods for Seattle.”

Under the existing model, an offender who violates the term of his supervision goes through a violation hearing process that might result in 30, 60 or 90 days in a county jail. Under the swift-and-certain sanction model, offenders know for certain they will be confined for 48 hours to 72 hours immediately. Research shows that this approach is more effective at changing the offender’s behavior than less certain, longer confinement time.

In a time of dwindling resources for the state, the promising results offer an alternative model that could lead to long-term, systemic cost savings. City and state officials modeled WISP after Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) project, which resulted in a nearly 50 percent decline in prison time by probationers.

"This is an excellent example of what city and state partners can achieve when we work together and share resources to increase public safety,” said Bernie Warner, Secretary of the Department of Corrections. "This promising pilot project is particularly important now as we reengineer community corrections to make it more effective and more efficient. I want to thank the leadership at Seattle City Council for their commitment to this project.”

As a field trial registered with the federal government, WISP has been the subject of rigorous evaluation from its inception. Its results have national implications because it involves a higher-risk population than Hawaii’s Project HOPE. It is the first report of outcomes data and implementation issues when applying the principles of the HOPE model to offenders released from prison.

"HOPE is easy to describe but difficult to execute well because everyone in the system has to work harder and faster,” said Angela Hawken, a Pepperdine University Professor who led the outcomes study. "The DOC chose a strong team and the WISP implementation in Seattle has been exemplary. The early results are promising and will help the DOC  identify the features of the program that are working well and those that might be modified to make WISP work even better for Washington.”

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz supported the project by providing resources to respond when offenders violated the terms of their supervision. An existing partnership between Seattle Police and the Department of Corrections – called the Neighborhood Corrections Initiative – helped apprehend offenders after arrest warrants were issued.

WISP originated after Councilmember Burgess invited UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman to Seattle in April, 2010 to speak with policymakers and the public about Project HOPE and other law enforcement and criminal justice reforms.

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