Individual Reentry Plans.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) is required to develop individual reentry plans for each incarcerated person under its jurisdiction except for those persons sentenced to life without the possibility of release, sentenced to death, and those subject to deportation. Individual reentry plans include: plans to maintain contact with family; a portfolio of the person's educational achievements, previous employment and work experience, and any training received; and a plan to facilitate reentry into the community that addresses education, employment, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, family reunification, and other needs.
The Department of Corrections' Educational Goals for Incarcerated Persons.
The DOC is required to offer certain education and work programs to persons incarcerated at a state correctional institution based on available funding and with the following goals, prioritized in the order listed:
If programming is provided for goals 1, 2, or 3, the DOC is responsible for the cost, including books, materials, and supplies. If programming is provided for goal 4, the incarcerated person is required to pay all or a portion of the cost, including books, fees, and tuition based on a DOC formula that correlates to the incarcerated person's average monthly income, available savings, and a prorated percent of the per-credit fee. A third party may pay the DOC directly for all or a portion of the programming costs aligned with the fourth goal.
Associate Workforce Degree Programs at State Correctional Institutions.
In 2017 the DOC was authorized to implement associate workforce degree programs at state correctional institutions without specific funds being appropriated for that purpose. The associate workforce degree programs must be offered by an accredited community or technical college, college, or university designed to prepare incarcerated persons to enter the workforce. The DOC may select an incarcerated person to participate in a state-funded associate degree program based on priority criteria, including consideration of the following:
Incarcerated persons who wish to participate in a state-funded associate degree program, but do not meet the priority criteria, must pay for the program themselves. Incarcerated persons sentenced to life without the possibility of release, sentenced to death, or subject to deportation under federal law are not allowed to participate in a state-funded associate degree program.
County of Origin Discharge Considerations.
The DOC must determine which county is the appropriate residence for a person released to community custody. The DOC is prohibited from approving a residence that is not in the person's county of origin unless the DOC determines that returning to the county of origin would be inappropriate due to: any court-ordered condition of the person's sentence; victim safety concerns; negative influences on the person from within the community; or the location of family, other sponsoring persons, or organizations supporting the person.
The Department of Corrections' Educational Goals for Incarcerated Persons.
An incarcerated individual's county of origin is the county of the individual's first felony conviction in Washington. The DOC's educational goals for incarcerated persons are modified as follows:
The DOC must establish a process for identifying and assessing incarcerated persons with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and other cognitive impairments to determine whether they require accommodations in order to effectively participate in educational programming, including General Educational Development (GED) tests and postsecondary education. The DOC must establish a process to provide accommodations to these persons.
The DOC must establish and periodically review goals for expanding access to postsecondary education certificate and degree programs and increasing program completion for all incarcerated individuals, including persons of color. The DOC may contract and partner with any accredited educational program sponsored by a nonprofit entity, community-based postsecondary education program, or institution with historical evidence of providing education programs to people of color.
Postsecondary Education Programs at State Correctional Institutions.
The DOC's authority to implement associate workforce degree programs at state correctional institutions is expanded to postsecondary education certificate or degree programs, but is limited to no more than a bachelor's degree. State-recognized preapprenticeship programs are also permitted. Priority consideration based on the number of years remaining on an individual's sentence is removed. The DOC must work with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to develop a plan to assist incarcerated persons participating in state-funded postsecondary education with filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA).
Incarcerated persons sentenced to death or subject to deportation may participate in a postsecondary education degree program if it is paid for by a third party or the individual.
The DOC is required to provide incarcerated individuals who participated in postsecondary education programs with a copy of their unofficial transcript any time the person completes a postsecondary education program, is transferred to a different facility, or is released. This copy must be provided at no cost to the individual.
Standard tuition fees charged at public institutions of higher education do not apply to persons incarcerated under the DOC who participate in credit-eligible postsecondary education if the expenses are funded by non-tuition resources, such as grants, contracts, and donations.
County of Origin Discharge Considerations.
The definition of "county of origin" is changed to the county of the incarcerated individual's residence at the time of the individual's first felony conviction. Upon release, the DOC may approve a residence location that is not in the individual's county of origin if the DOC determines the residence location would be appropriate based on any court-ordered condition of the individual's sentence, victim safety concerns, and factors that increase opportunities for successful reentry and long-term support, including location of family, supporting persons or organizations, ability to complete an education program that the individual is enrolled in, availability of appropriate programming or treatment, and access to housing, employment, and prosocial influences in the community. The DOC must approve residence locations in a manner that will not cause any one county to be disproportionately impacted.
Transfers of Persons Incarcerated at Correctional Facilities.
When determining whether to transfer an incarcerated person to a different in-state facility, the DOC is required to consider whether the person is enrolled in a vocational or educational program, including programs operated by approved outside providers, which cannot be continued at the receiving facility. The DOC must work with the individual's case manager, counselor, or education navigator, or other appropriate person to attempt to meet the needs to the DOC and the individual.
Washington State Institute for Public Policy Study.
The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) must study recidivism, enrollment, and completion rates of incarcerated persons in the postsecondary education system post-release. The DOC, the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), the Education Research and Data Center, and the SBCTC must provide the data necessary to complete the study. The study's findings are to be published in two reports, a preliminary report due October 1, 2024, and a final report due October 1, 2027. The WSIPP study must include:
State Agency Report on Postsecondary Education Programs and Incarcerated Persons.
The DOC, SBCTC, WSAC, and the Washington Statewide Reentry Council, in collaboration with an organization representing the presidents of the public four-year institutions of higher education, must report to the committees of the Legislature with oversight over higher education and correctional matters, by December 1, 2021, and annually thereafter. The state agencies must consult and engage with nonprofit and community-based postsecondary education providers during the development of the annual report. The report must strive to include the voices of current or formerly incarcerated individuals, and must include the following:
References to offender, inmate, and prisoner are changed to incarcerated individual throughout the bill. Third party includes a nonprofit entity or community-based postsecondary education program that partners with the DOC to provide accredited postsecondary education degree and certificate programs at state correctional institutions.
(In support) Education is one of the most effective tools to create a transformative impact on a person's life, on prison culture, and on recidivism. Incarcerated individuals who participate in postsecondary education have greater rates of employment and reduced recidivism rates. Robust re-entry programs are essential for safety. These programs help save tax dollars and increase public safety. For every dollar spent by the state, there are $20 in savings. Education increases the chance that these individuals become taxpayers who can support their families. A lack of education has an impact on society. An individual who enters a low-wage job is likely to stay low-income. Children who see their family members take education seriously also take education seriously. Postsecondary education can break generational poverty, and a successful transition into the community is something everyone can support.
This expansion recognizes the importance of academic degrees and that every student should have a choice. Students would not be limited by the five associate workforce degrees that are currently offered. This especially impacts women. Some individuals currently pay tuition for an out-of-state correspondence course because there are no in-state options available. Educational choice is important because you never know the path someone will take in the future. It can take 10 years to get a four-year degree while incarcerated so the expansion to allow those within 10 years of release to participate in postsecondary education is appreciated. There's a difference between legislating outcomes versus opportunities. There are a number of folks who go into the correctional system wanting change. It is inhumane to further punish people who have served their time by limiting their opportunities.
There is research about some interventions, but not a lot on educational interventions. The WSIPP study must examine these effects and is complimentary to a study at the University of Washington. Programs with small effects can still pass the cost-benefit analysis test and pay for themselves. Section 8 of the bill directs several state agencies to review vital information for policy makers to leverage resources and achieve shared goals.
Incarcerated individuals deserve better assessments and tools to determine what special accommodations they need. There are many who struggle with learning disabilities. Incarcerated students need wrap-around supports. Many of the obstacles to reach graduation are removed with this bill, but there are still many obstacles for individuals with disabilities.
While supportive of education services, the DOC needs additional funding to expand education. There are also concerns about incarcerated students using all of their Federal Pell or Washington College Grants while incarcerated and exhausting their financial aid for future education.
(In support) Postsecondary education is essential to employment and it changes prison culture from punitive to rehabilitative. However, there are currently barriers to providing postsecondary education in incarceration facilities, such as it is only available to offenders that are within five years of release. It is essential to increase postsecondary education as it not only provides offenders with knowledge and self-worth, but it also provides skills for individuals to be productive members of society. One of the primary factors leading to recidivism is a lack of family living wages which is tied to employment and education.
As part of funding this bill, the DOC will need more technology and staff to fully implement this bill. In addition, the legislation should be structured so that the data that is derived from providing education to incarcerated individuals is made available across all institutions so that other researchers can gain knowledge from the results. Lastly, one must remember that access to education is not only one of the greatest determinants to recidivism but that it is also cost-beneficial to taxpayers. People who were formerly incarcerated deserve the same career opportunities when they reenter society as everyone else.