The Legislature, in a time of deep budget-cutting three years ago, raised the threshold for filing class B felony theft charges. The change received little press coverage, yet it dropped the state prison census by an estimated 385 inmates each year, saving millions of dollars a year, with no noticeable increase in crime.
It was a rare reversal from precedent.
Each session, lawmakers launch a blizzard of proposals to add new crimes and longer sentences, seemingly in a contest to be considered toughest on crime.
The Great Recession forced a great reset. Lawmakers largely stopped adding to the prison population.
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The result: Crime rates remained at historic lows.
If the Legislature is to avoid building a new prison, the trend should continue.
If a lawmaker is arguing to establish a new crime, or a longer sentence, the case should be overwhelming. Otherwise, it is a drip-drip-drip addition to the budget, at a cost of $34,123.85 per inmate per year.
In contrast, the state pays $7,432 per year to educate Washington state students. Put the money where it counts.