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The COVID-19 pandemic led to abrupt changes in the operations of the adult criminal justice system. In this report, we describe how the flow of individuals through the adult criminal justice system has changed since the start of the pandemic by system component and by type of offense. We provide a high-level summary of the Washington State adult criminal justice system and discuss the decrease in measures of criminal justice processing at key stages of the system after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We then discuss some additional changes to the criminal justice system since the end of calendar year 2020 and considerations for whether the system will return to processing the same number of individuals as it did before the pandemic.
Washington’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) collaborate to provide educational programming to incarcerated individuals and formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering the community. Available educational programming includes adult basic education, workforce and vocational training, and Associate of Arts degrees, among other options.
In 2020, the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), in partnership with DOC and SBCTC, received a grant from the Lumina Foundation to improve postsecondary credential outcomes for incarcerated and re-entering populations in Washington. As a part of this grant, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) was contracted by WSAC to examine the landscape of postsecondary correctional education programs in Washington.
This study presents an overview of the postsecondary correctional education system in Washington, with an examination of the patterns of enrollment in and completion of postsecondary programs for incarcerated individuals. We found that Black, Latino, and other people of color participated in correctional education programs at a greater rate than White individuals while incarcerated. Rates of retention and completion once enrolled were similar across all racial groups, although Black and Latino students were slightly less likely to complete their degree programs. These findings were consistent for both professional/technical degrees and academic transfer degrees.
This report also includes a review of national research literature identifying challenges that may inhibit participation in postsecondary programs and best practices that may promote access. We found that Washington already implements many useful practices, chiefly the coordination between the Department of Corrections, community colleges, and other stakeholders and reentry services for formerly incarcerated students. Though barriers to participation still exist, often around funding, eligibility, and course quality, we found that these challenges would not generally limit participation for incarcerated students of color uniquely. However, some policies, particularly those related to student eligibility factors, may indirectly contribute to inequities.
Before 2016, two separate systems existed for the involuntary commitment of individuals in crisis due to mental health (MH) or substance use disorders (SUD). The 2016 Legislature passed E3SHB 1713—called “Ricky's Law”—to integrate both conditions into Washington’s existing Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA). The legislation required the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to evaluate the changes resulting from Ricky’s Law.
As part of the integration, Ricky’s Law (1) created the designated crisis responders (DCRs)—a single professional designation responsible for conducting all ITA investigations, both MH and SUD, and (2) established Secure Withdrawal Management and Stabilization (SWMS) facilities. WSIPP interviewed DCRs from across the state to learn about their experience when determining whether to detain people under Ricky’s Law and whether to place people in SWMS facilities.
This report—the second in a series of three— provides an in-depth look at the integrated ITA detention and placement processes from the DCR perspective. We present themes from interviews conducted with DCR managers and DCRs throughout Washington. The interviews provide an understanding of the mechanisms that may affect outcomes, provide an on-the-ground perspective of the implementation and ongoing application of Ricky’s Law, and inform our approach for the third report.
The Washington State Criminal Sentencing Task Force (CSTF) was directed to review the state’s sentencing laws. To better understand the landscape of sentencing in Washington and the potential impacts of reforming the state’s sentencing laws, the CSTF contracted with WSIPP to examine felony sentencing in Washington State Superior Courts. This report is intended to provide analytic data to assist with future policy discussions within the CSTF.
Using data from the Caseload Forecast Council, this report reviews the outcomes from FY 2019 felony sentences. Specifically, the report examines how standard, non-drug sentences vary across the current offense seriousness level-based sentencing guideline grid. The report also examines how sentences may vary across an alternative, felony class-based guideline grid.
This report includes an examination of racial disproportionality in sentencing outcomes for standard sentences in the current and alternative guideline grids and for non-standard sentences including enhancements, exceptional sentences, and sentencing alternatives.
In general, the report found that average sentence lengths and incarceration rates may decrease under a class-based grid. However, racial disproportionality in sentencing outcomes was present under both grid systems. The magnitude of racial disproportionality varied for different types of offenses and for different types of sentences.
In the Early Start Act of 2015, the Washington State Legislature required child care and early learning providers who serve non-school aged children and receive state subsidies to participate in Early Achievers, the state’s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). This legislation also directed WSIPP to examine the relationship between Early Achievers quality ratings and long-term outcomes for children who participate in state-subsidized child care and early learning programs. WSIPP was required to produce annual reports to the legislature from December 2019 through December 2022; the final report must include a benefit-cost analysis of Early Achievers.
In this second report, we found that enrollment in a pre-kindergarten site that has an Early Achievers rating does not significantly predict kindergarten readiness for children in ECEAP or those receiving child care subsidy, although we do observe modest positive associations for children in ECEAP. Enrollment in a pre-kindergarten site that met minimum quality standards is a significant positive predictor of greater kindergarten readiness for children in ECEAP sites and for those with child care subsidies.
WSIPP’s next report in the Early Achievers evaluation series, due in December 2021, will examine variation in Early Achievers quality standard areas (e.g., learning environment and interactions, professional development) to predict child outcomes. Additionally, to the extent possible given data availability, we will address special topics questions such as infant-toddler care quality and later child outcomes.
Washington State has compulsory school attendance laws, which mandate how schools and courts respond to unexcused absences. The 2016 Washington State Legislature passed legislation that changed some truancy-related requirements and directed WSIPP to evaluate the effectiveness of the act. The legislation requires that students who receive a truancy petition are first diverted to a community truancy board for intervention before moving forward with hearings in a juvenile court. The new law also increased the prevention requirements of schools and made it more difficult for juvenile courts to order youth to detention in cases of truancy.
WSIPP found that access to community truancy boards increased following the law’s passage, although the interventions that youth receive vary significantly across the state. Schools continue to file truancy petitions at a low rate; less than a quarter of students who are required to receive a petition actually do so. We found no clear relationship between the legislation and student outcomes, i.e., reduced unexcused absences and dropout rates. However, the dropout rate for truant youth (both with and without a petition) slightly declined after the law was implemented. The percentage of youth being sent to juvenile detention for truancy also fell, although that decrease began prior to when the law was implemented.
Before 2016, two separate systems existed for involuntary commitment of individuals in crisis due to mental health or substance use disorders. The 2016 Legislature passed E3SHB 1713—called Ricky's Law—to integrate both conditions into a statewide behavioral health system within Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA). WSIPP is required to “evaluate the effect of the integration of the involuntary treatment systems for substance use disorders and mental health.”In this initial report, we examine the broad changes to Washington’s ITA for substance use disorders that resulted from Ricky’s Law. We provide background on Washington’s behavioral health context and examine the main components of Ricky’s Law. Then, we outline our basic research strategy to examine the effectiveness of this multi-component law. Our second and third reports are due in June 2021 and 2023. We will examine the impact of Ricky's Law on (1) client outcomes (e.g., substance use, overdose, death, employment, housing, and mental health services); (2) system outcomes; and (3) cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the integrated involuntary behavioral health treatment system.
The Resource and Assessment Center (RAC) program provides short-term emergency crisis care to youth entering foster care in Washington. RAC facilities offer an initial placement option of up to 72 hours for youth ages birth through 12 years old. Two facilities, in Whatcom and Snohomish counties, respectively, operated RACs from 2015-2020 and have served over 1,100 youth.The 2019 Washington State Legislature directed WSIPP to evaluate the RAC program. Our results indicate that compared to similar youth, those who were first placed in a RAC are more likely to spend their RAC and subsequent placements with a sibling. RAC youth are also more likely to be placed with a relative in their subsequent placement. RAC placement does not have long term effects on the number of placement events or the length of time youth spend in foster care. Results also suggest that foster parents who received youth from a RAC were more likely than other similar foster parents who only received youth from other settings to retain their license for various follow-up periods.
WSIPP’s Board of Directors approved a Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) contract with WSIPP to examine the new DOC risk and needs assessment—the Washington ONE. In 2017, DOC transitioned to the Washington ONE for adults incarcerated in state facilities or under DOC supervision in the community. During the current phase of implementation, contact requirements for community supervision are based on an individual’s initial assessment and are not updated during regularly scheduled reassessments. We examined how the new assessment impacted risk level classification and corresponding contact requirements for community contacts and how these requirements would change if they were updated following reassessments. We found minimal differences between the contact requirements under the previous risk assessment system, the current Washington ONE assessment system, and a more dynamic Washington ONE assessment system. Our analysis found that contact requirements for some individuals would change if contact levels were updated following reassessments. However, we found that a similar number of individuals showed a reduction in risk level and contacts over time as the number of individuals showed an increase in risk level and contacts over time, resulting in little change in DOC’s workload associated with community contacts during the study period.