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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Prisons Deportation Program Still Going After 6 Years

Rennett Stowe
Flickr -

Since 2011, Washington’s prison system has deported 339 convicted felons instead of locking them up. The deportations are part of a voluntary program designed to reduce prison costs.

The deportation-in-lieu-of-prison program is available only to non-violent, non-sex offenders who face deportation at the end of their sentences as a result of their convictions or because they’re undocumented.

In recent years only a handful of inmates have been eligible for the program -- 19 last year, 27 the year before. In each of those years more than half of eligible inmates chose deportation over incarceration.

Over the history of the program, 73 people have been re-arrested and sent to prison because they returned to the U.S. and were caught. Initially many more inmates were eligible for the deportation program because it was offered retroactively to inmates already behind bars.

The Washington Department of Corrections said it currently has 845 inmates with federal immigration holds for when they are set to be released. Washington has just under 17,000 prison inmates.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."