OLYMPIAGov. Jay Inslee signed two bills Wednesday that will allow more incarcerated individuals to access essential transition services proven to be effective at reducing recidivism.

Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma) sponsored this legislation to help adults leaving prison and youth exiting juvenile rehabilitation settings succeed when they return to their communities.

“It’s about improving the status of people leaving these settings to give them a chance at making it,” said Darneille. “This means providing assistance for finding sources of income through jobs or education programs, as well as locating affordable housing, and obtaining access to health insurance and medical services, including possible behavioral health treatment.”

Senate Bill 5121, requested by the Department of Corrections (DOC), involves expanding its graduated reentry program, which has operated since 2018. The program allows eligible people to serve the last several months of their sentences in the community under intensive supervision. Participants are given access to programming and treatment in the community to match their needs and are closely supervised by a corrections officer while under electronic home monitoring.

The graduated reentry program has seen excellent results since its inception, with only 4 people out of 500 returning within a year on a new sentence – a recidivism rate of just 0.8%, compared to the 11.2% overall recidivism rate for people exiting DOC custody. SB 5121 creates two expanded eligibility tracks, opening the program to more people and allowing lower-level offenders to serve more of their sentences in the community. The bill provides DOC with the flexibility to make sentences more effective at achieving rehabilitation and allows continued discretion over who can participate in the program.

Expansion of the graduated reentry program is projected to reduce the state’s average daily prison population by up to 20%. Even accounting for the costs of supervision and electronic home monitoring, the state will save millions of dollars while providing better outcomes for individuals and communities.

“The state makes an investment in the rehabilitation of people while they are incarcerated, for the sake of public safety,” said Darneille. “It’s crucial that we apply this in reentry, as well, because programs that support people in reentry reduce recidivism and improve public safety, whereas leaving individuals to figure everything out on their own has proven to be ineffective. SB 5121 and SB 5118 address the root causes of recidivism, giving people the tools they need to transition back into the community safely and successfully.”

Senate Bill 5118 expands programs at the juvenile level that focus on helping youth return to their communities as they are released from juvenile rehabilitation facilities operated by the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

Community-based “step-down facilities” for youth have existed for decades, equipping youth to live successfully by providing opportunities to connect with educational and job programs in the community, as well as access to health care (including behavioral health treatment) while remaining in a supportive setting where they learn skills to become self-sufficient. SB 5118 will help establish more step-down facilities in more communities to serve even greater numbers of youth by designating them as essential public facilities for zoning purposes.

Additionally, the bill requires outstanding warrants to be addressed before youth leave the juvenile system to prevent setbacks for positive reentry due to subsequent incarceration. It also requires DCYF to help youth establish a relationship with community health providers prior to leaving the system.

“These services are critical to getting youth back onto the right path and helping them avoid going to prison as adults,” said Darneille. “We all need help from time to time, and these bills articulate precise ways we can offer that help to people we know need it.”