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Criminal Justice Progress 2020 Session

Two bills we supported this year are becoming law:

(1) A bill to prohibit contracts by the WA Dept. of Corrections for privately-operated prisons

(2) A “bail-jumping” bill, that will reduce penalties for not appearing in court, which tend to affect low-income people most.

We are greatly pleased with the success in implementing the corrections ombuds bill that we championed for many years until its passage in 2018. 

Unfortunately, several of our priority issues were not resolved this session and await further work next session, including:

(1) Abolishing the Death Penalty

(2) Restoration of voting rights for persons released from prison but under community supervision

(3) Establishment of a system for review for possible release for persons serving long-term sentences such as 15-20 years

(4) Reform of debt-based suspension of drivers’ licenses.

Quaker Voice understands that we are in this work for the long haul.  For many bills, success requires several sessions, as was the case for establishment of the corrections ombuds office and reform of legal financial obligations.

Corrections Ombuds Office: In fact, following many years of advocacy by Quaker Voice and other organizations, the corrections ombuds office was set up in late 2018.  It is a continuing success for us.  Housed in the governor’s office, and led by the very talented and energetic Director, Joanna Carns, this office uses a hands-on approach and processes many concerns and grievances from persons in prison, proactively visits prisons to talk with the residents as well as staff and administrators, and works closely with the families of those in prison. 

Working with the Dept. of Corrections, a workgroup was formed that has come to consensus on a number of solutions concerning the handling of grievances.  In April, following concern about COVID-19 under the close quarters in prisons and a law suit from a non-profit legal group, Governor Inslee announced the release of a significant number of those confined.  Director Carns hosts weekly phone calls with families of those in prisons and others to share progress and answer questions.  While maintaining a very busy schedule, she has kept in contact with Quaker Voice and other organizations involved with the ombuds work.

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