Criminal Justice Working Group: Clerk, Sam Merrill.
We celebrate the passage in 2018 of not one but two of the criminal justice bills that we have worked on for at least the past ten years:
Establish a Corrections Ombuds Office, independent of the Dept. of Corrections (Success):
- An Independent Corrections Ombuds (HB 1889), after passing the House, also passed the Senate near the end of the session, and has now been signed by the Governor.
- The ombuds, to be housed in the governor’s office, will provide the opportunity for professionals independent of the Department of Corrections to visit prisons, to learn both formally and informally about grievances and concerns of those in prison, attempt to resolve them, and bring conditions to light when appropriate.
- Such efforts should not only help persons in prison and their families but also help to reduce the costs and acrimony of legal disputes. Passage of the ombuds bill is especially satisfying, because this year Quaker Voice played a leadership role in the broad coalition for the ombuds effort.
Reform of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) for persons released from prison (HB 1783) passed both houses and has been signed by the Governor (Success):
- LFO reform will eliminate the interest (previously 12 percent) on all non-restitution LFOs going forward, will require that courts not impose costs on a defendant who is indigent at the time of sentencing, and will place restitution at the front of the line in receiving funds that are collected.
- Most released prisoners, particularly those with a background of low income including many people of color, have a difficult time getting housing or a job. As a consequence, they find it almost impossible to pay off these debts, a situation that compromises their ability to reconstruct their lives. This reform will help them rehabilitate their lives, and by so doing, will enhance public safety.
Abolish the Death Penalty (Progress, but not not final success…):
- Unfortunately, legislation to abolish the death penalty (SB 6052), after passing the Senate on a close and dramatic vote, was not brought to a vote in the House. But the experience of passage in one house this year offers a firm foundation for consideration next year. Our experience culminating with passage last week of the Ombuds and LFO bills after so many years of effort demonstrates that persistence pays off!
Police Accountability (Success):
- Efforts to enhance police accountability and training in de-escalation and mental health issues — an effort supported by Quaker Voice — was resolved through a remarkable confluence of ideas and agreement between a number of law enforcement groups and the organizers of De-Escalate Washington.
- A “good faith” rather than “with malice” standard for police accountability will be used and de-escalation and mental health training will be required.
- Rather than accept, reject, or offer an alternative to I-940 — an Initiative that had been proposed to the Legislature — that body approved the Initiative, then immediately passed a clarifying piece of legislation (HB 3003) that had been developed by the two bargaining sides and supported by majorities in both houses of the legislature. It has been signed by the Governor.
Ban the Box (Success):
- “Ban the Box” passed. It is the catch-phrase description for legislation to prohibit questions about a job applicant’s possible criminal history on initial application forms (as in a check-box for previous convictions), thus allowing an applicant a fair chance for job consideration at this first critical stage.
Community Review Board (consideration for parole for persons with long-term sentences):
- Quaker Voice supported HB 1789, a bill for study of considertion for parole after 20 years. Unfortunately, the bill would be only a first step toward actual considertion for parole and was not passed.
Driving with Licence Suspended 3:
- Quaker Voice supported bills to change driving with license suspended 3 from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction, but these bills did not proceed this year. Driving with licence suspended 3 typically occurs for persons unable to pay fines (not for serious actions such as DUI), including low-income people.
Other issues to monitor:
- Immigrant detention; Repeal of mandate to notify immigration authorities (SB 5689); Voting rights for persons in prison convicted of a felony; Released offender identicards; Sentencing under 21; Restorative justice; Foster care (state raised) issues; Solitary confinement; and Incarcerated elderly.
Long Term Goals:
- Give priority to efforts to repair the harm suffered by victims over attempts to punish offenders
- Look for opportunities to take preventive action to identify and address the causes of crime
- Replace costly incarceration through diversion, drug treatment, job training, and education whenever appropriate
- Redress the racial inequity of our current criminal justice system
- Support offenders’ efforts to redeem themselves and reintegrate into society
Criminal Justice Resources:
- Justice and Crime in Washington State 2014: A resource guide
- Read More on our Facebook page
- Firearm Fatalities in Washington State updated 10-29-2013