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Washington governor unveils strategy to fight property crime, prevent repeat offenders

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has announced a plan to reduce the state's property crime rate 15 percent by 2021. (AP file)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has announced a plan to reduce the state’s property crime rate 15 percent by 2021.

According to a report out Wednesday, Washington had the highest property crime rate in the country in 2013, due in part to a large number of repeat offenders. The report, released by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, outlined strategies to combat property crime by providing offenders with supervision and treatment to reduce their risk of recidivism.

“Through implementation of these proposed reforms, we would reduce the state’s high property crime rate, strengthen law enforcement and supervision to hold offenders accountable, and save our state millions of dollars every year in future corrections costs,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

In 2013, 16,171 people were arrested for felony property crimes statewide. Of those, 11,000 had prior felony arrests, the report stated.

Armed with that data, Inslee appeared alongside state legislators and public safety leaders Wednesday to tout their new plan and said lawmakers in Olympia will discuss legislation during the 2015 session aimed at reducing property crime, which he said would reduce the inmate population and help the state avoid spending an estimated $291 million on adding and maintaining new prison facilities.

“Washington is the only state in the country where supervision is not available as a sentence for most people convicted of property offenses, despite the significant impact supervision can have on reducing the likelihood of reoffending,” the report read. “Washington’s prison population is growing, in part, due to an increasing number of repeat offenders being sentenced to prison for long lengths of stay.”

Someone with a “significant criminal history” who is convicted of second-degree burglary in Washington state could be sentenced to around 68 months in prison, compared to 30 months in North Carolina, 32 months in Kansas, and 36 months in Minnesota, the report said.

“Washington has long had a policy of not supervising these offenders after confinement, unlike other states that use supervision as a primary way of holding them accountable,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “Studies show supervision and treatment are the most effective methods to reduce reoffending.”

By focusing on prevention, the Justice Reinvestment Task Force, which was created by the governor’s office seven months ago to take a comprehensive look at issues of public safety, estimates that the projected prison population would be reduced by around 900 inmates – from 18,542 in 2021 to 17,631.

Money not spent on corrections could be used to improve public safety, reduce property crime through increased law enforcement spending, and provide victims with financial assistance, the task force recommended.

“I’ve always said I want to be tough on crime, by preventing it. This package, if correctly implemented and funded, has the potential to dramatically reduce our property crime rate,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam).

According to the report, there were 3,710 property crimes per 100,000 residents reported in Washington state in 2013. The national rate is 2,730 per 100,000 residents, the report stated, citing numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Thirty-three percent of all property crime statewide occurred in King County, with 22 percent of all felony property crime arrests taking place there.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole recently ordered a review of how her department handles property crimes, following widespread complaints from the public that officers didn’t take the crimes seriously.

The department issued a directive to officers outlining the importance of focusing on property crimes, specifically car prowls and burglaries.

Such crimes are “important to the citizens and it’s putting us in touch with offenders we need to engage,” SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers told the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee in December.

Wagers said the department’s renewed emphasis on “low-level” crimes led to a noticeable drop in some property crimes, including a 34 percent drop in auto thefts and a 25 percent decrease in car prowls from October to November of 2014.

Still, the vast majority of individuals who commit property crimes are never arrested, according to the report. There were 258,662 reported property crimes statewide in 2013, compared to 35,954 arrests.

According to the most recent data from the Washington State Department of Corrections, there are 16,697 inmates incarcerated as of Dec. 31, 2014. Of those, 19 percent are serving sentences for property crimes, compared to 7.9 percent for drug crimes and 70.3 percent for violent crimes.

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