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Washington State To Launch Prison Alternatives For Non-Violent Felony Offenders With Serious Mental Illness

The Washington Department of Corrections is launching alternatives to prison for felony offenders diagnosed with serious mental illness (SMI) under a new law signed on May 10, 2021. Under the legislation, Washington Senate Bill 5293, judges will have the option to sentence non-violent felony offenders with SMI (not convicted of a sexual offense) to community supervision and treatment in lieu of prison. The opinion of the person’s victim would also be considered.

SB 5293 goes into effect on July 25, 2021. It requires the Department of Corrections to conduct a pre-sentence investigation for offenders with SMI who are eligible for alternative sentencing. That investigation would include, among other things, the name and address of the professionals providing treatment for the offender, a proposed monitoring plan, and any conditions of release back into the community.

In order to qualify for alternative sentencing, the person would have to be willing to participate, and the court would have to determine the individual would benefit from community-based supervision and treatment. If alternative sentencing is deemed appropriate, the court shall impose a term of community custody between 12 and 24 months if the midpoint of the defendant’s standard range sentence is less than or equal to 36 months, and a term of community custody between 12 months and 36 months if the midpoint of the defendant’s standard range sentence is longer than 36 months. The actual length of community custody within these ranges shall be at the discretion of the court. If the court imposes an alternative sentence under this section, the department shall assign a community corrections officer who has appropriate training in mental health to supervise the defendant.

Treatment issues that occur during supervision will be discussed collaboratively among the treating professional, the community corrections officer, and any representative of the person’s medical assistance plan. They will jointly determine the intervention for violation of a treatment condition. The community corrections officer shall have the authority to address the violation independently if it is safety related with respect to the defendant or others, consists of decompensation related to psychosis presenting risk to self or others and cannot be mitigated by community intervention. In such cases, the community corrections officer may intervene with available resources such as a designated crisis responder.

For more information, contact:

  • Washington State Department of Corrections, Post Office Box 41100, Mail Stop 41100, Olympia, Washington 98504-1100; 360-725-8213; Email: DOCCorrespondenceUnit@doc.wa.gov; Website: https://www.doc.wa.gov/
  • Chris Wright, Media Contact, Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, Washington Department of Social and Health Services, 3600 S Graham Street, Seattle, Washington 98118; 360-902-8338; Email: chris.wright@dshs.wa.gov; Website: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/
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