Don't we already have parole in WA state?
WA is a mandatory sentencing state since 1984. Prior to that there was a parole board and all sentences were indeterminate. Since 1984 most people are sentenced with a specific amount of times that is given out in a number of months. There is the potential to get 10% good time off of these mandatory sentences; however, some charges are not eligible for good time for example a Gun Enhancement charge must be served in it’s totality without any option for earned good time. Once the mandatory sentence is up, the person is not reviewed or re-assessed prior to being released. There are a few exceptions to this.
1) Anyone who was sentenced prior to 1984. There are still people in our prisons who have indeterminate sentences and therefore are eligible to be reviewed by the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board (ISRB).
2) In 2001 Determinate-Plus sentencing was introduced for people who were found guilty of a sex offense. This results in these people having a minimum sentence and a maximum sentence that is the mandatory sentence for the particular crime. The ISRB determines when these people are released. They can continually have time added to their sentence until the mandatory maximum is met.
3) In 2014 HB 5064 was passed that provided the ability for people who were charged prior to their 18th birthday to be reviewed by the ISRB.
Could you tell me more about HB 5064?
Yes, it provided changes to the sentencing structure for those who are charged prior to their 18th birthday. 1) If someone was younger than 16 and found guilty of aggravated 1st degree murder the minimum sentence is 25 years and the maximum sentence is life. 2) If someone was 16 or younger than 18 and found guilty of aggravated 1st degree murder the minimum sentence is 25 years and the maximum is life. However a minimum sentence of life could be imposed, in which case the person will be ineligible for parole or early release. 3) Anyone who was charged with a crime other than aggravated 1st degree murder and was under 18 years old at the time of the event would be eligible for review after 20 years. 4) Anyone with a sentence of LWOP and was under 18 years old would be re-sentenced for a sentence within the min and max listed in 1 & 2 depending on their age. We need to be watchful how this new law is executed now that people are currently being re-sentenced and reviewed by the ISRB board. There is much for us to learn from this process.
Since poor communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration, what is the Coalition doing to ensure these communities are not negatively impacted by this work?
The Coalition is mindful of these issues and brings them front and center in the work we do. The Black community is only 4% in WA state but the incarcerated population is 18% Black, and if you look at those who have sentences of 15+ years it grows to 22%. Even more startling is that the majority of people who were charged with the crime prior to their 25th birthday and have sentences of 15 or more years are people of color, in a state where the White community represents 71% of the population outside of prison. Here are our main strategies to counter the negative impact of the past: 1) be mindful of race in everything we do 2) have people of color as leaders 3) partner with communities of color to ensure blind spots are acknowledged and worked through 4) attribute success to those who came before us 5) build a strong diverse multicultural coalition that takes the time to understand the community impact while continuing to move forward with the direction the men and women inside are giving us, which is to drop a bill in 2016.
Is this the first time a group has tried to create a review process?
No. There has been a couple of iterations to bring back parole and/or create a new review process. A few years ago a proposal was made to create a community based board so that the reviewing body was made up of community members in which the returning citizens will be living. In 2014, HB 2316 “The Second Chances Act” was dropped by Rep. Mary Helen Roberts. This legislation was born from the work of men at Washington State Reformatory specifically those men who are apart of the Black Prisoner’s Caucus and the Concerned Lifer’s Organization. It was their vision to unify the concerns expressed from within the institutions into one bill so that all people regardless of their originating crime would be eligible for review. HB 2316 did get a large hearing however it did not get out of the house. A strategic decision was made to not run a bill in 2015 so that we could focus on building a politically strong coalition to enhance our probability of success in 2016.
What is the Coalitions primary goal?
To create an accountable review process for those men and women who have been incarcerated at least 15 years. In order to achieve this goal we must have a very diverse coalition that creates political strength so we can influence the legislators to pass the bill. By diverse we mean not only racial representation but also organizations from both the right and the left. We need to have voices of survivors of violent crime who believe that people deserve a second chance. The strongest political coalitions are those that can unify people that would not normally come together. The coalition must also be state wide and multicultural for our goal to be successful.
Is the Coalition only looking at non violent crime?
No. In WA State the percent of the population that has a sentence of 15 years or more and was involved in a non violent crime it only 1%. 79% of this population has either a murder charge, a homicide charge or a sex offense. If we are going to reduce our prison populations we must look at all people not just the ones with non violent crimes.
Is it safe to release people who perpetrated significant harm in the past?
The Coalition’s foundation is that none of us are just our worst act and that none of us are the people we were 15 or 20 years ago. We believe that with an accountable review process we will be able to substantially reduce the prison population and not impact public safety.
How will the legislation ensure that the reviewing body is not making decisions based on racial stereotypes?
Currently the draft legislation doesn’t have accountability of the reviewing body built into it. We need to add this language still. Basically we want to ensure that all decisions by the reviewing body are audited on a regular and consistent basis to ensure that racial bias is not occurring. This is to ensure the concerns of the past parole board is not re-instated..
Who would be eligible to be reviewed under the draft legislation the coalition plans to drop in 2016?
Why are we focused on people who have served at least 15 years?
DOC 2014 Fact Card shows 18,056 incarcerated people. Of that there are 4852 people who have sentences of 20 years or more that is a 27% of the total incarcerated population. Of that 20% are serving life sentences and the national average is 9%. Not only do we have a disproportionate lifer population, the recidivism rates decline sharply as people age. The inverse relationship between age and involvement in crime has been one of the oldest and most widely accepted phenomena in criminology.
Would people who are serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) be eligible to be reviewed?
What is the criteria that would be used to determine if someone could be released?
The following factors and information shall be considered by the reviewing body 1) public safety, 2)the nature and circumstances of the offenses committed including the current and past offenses, 3)the person’s social and medical history, 4) the person’s adjustment while incarcerated, including an infraction history, educational history and work history while incarcerated 5) the recommendations of the victims of the crime, 6) the recommendations of the police and prosecutors in the jurisdictions where the person’s crimes were committed, 7) the available resources in the community to help the transition for the person to life outside of prison, 8) a risk assessment and psychological evaluation provided by the Department of Corrections and 9) factors including racial or other biases that might have influenced the charging decisions, the trial, or the sentencing.
What are the outstanding issues still under consideration with the current draft legislation?
1) language to be added regarding a 3rd party adjudicator to review decisions made on a regular and consistent basis for accountability on potential subject decision making 2) Re-intigration services wrapped in legislation to ensure people are set up to succeed upon release.