In a nation where recidivism rates are upwards of 65 percent, it is obvious that keeping convicts from returning to prison is no easy task. States turn to programs focused on addiction, education, and employment to give convicts the opportunity to make law-abiding lives for themselves after their release. Some of these programs have been effective, many of them have not. But Washington’s adoption of SB 6157 (pdf) may be the most counterintuitive approach to reducing recidivism yet. The bill requires offenders to return to the county of their first conviction to complete post-prison programs such as probation and parole. Previously, counties like Pierce, with large urban areas, claimed they were bearing an inequitable financial burden when it came to funding these programs. The idea behind the bill was to target this disparity by sharing the burden among counties.
In an article for Seattle Weekly, Nina Shapiro responds to the new law by showing its adverse effects on the lives of four people recently released from prison. For one ex-convict, the law meant returning to a county full of “triggers” to her addiction—drug dealers and users, former pimps, and a criminal lifestyle. Another was forced back to the county he lived in as a child, where he received his first prison sentence, even though he hadn’t lived there for years. And a third subject had to move to a county she had never lived in before because she committed a crime while driving through that county.
Although there is a committee set up to review special situations like these, the appeals process is a lengthy one, and solutions are often shackled in bureaucratic red tape. Since the law was enacted explicitly to ease the burden on counties’ resources, operating and funding a special review board seems to go against the logical grain in any case.