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Quaker Voice Annual Meeting

Criminal Justice Working Group Clerk, Sam Merrill.

Criminal Justice Priorities for 2020

  • Post-conviction Review Board. Support a bill like SB 5819 to provide opportunity for review of persons who have already served in prison for long periods, for possible release based on actions in prisons and likelihood of recidivism. Our role involves work within the supporting coalition and maintaining a strong bill.
  • Automatic restoration of voting rights for persons with a felony conviction when no longer incarcerated (currently they must have completed community supervision as well).
    Support SB 5076 (Sen. Kuderer, prime sponsor) and HB 1924 (Rep. Dolan, prime sponsor), and ideally, one unified bill. Our long run objective is to also restore voting rights to those still in prison. 
  • Abolish Death Penalty (SB 5339). This bill would establish in law the decision of the WA state Supreme Court in the fall of 2018. Passed full Senate in 2019.  We have reason to hope that it passes both chambers in the 2020 session.
  • Decriminalizing Driving with License Suspended 3 (typically for failure to pay fines). End use of license suspension to enforce debt repayment for traffic violations.  The current law is one of many that mostly impact persons of low income.  It would be a major help to those who get caught in a downward spiral because of failure to pay off fines. It would also save a great deal of court time and money.
  • Other issues on Quaker Voice 2020 agenda:

    • Decriminalizing homelessness.
    • Issues for elderly prisoners
    • Abolishing use of private prisons
    • Bail bond reform

Successful bills in the past (2019) session:

  • HB 1041 (New Hope Act).   On discharging and vacating conviction records. Rep. Hansen, prime sponsor.  This new law, which helps clear the way for an opportunity to rebuild lives, became effective July 28, 2019.
  • SB 5207.  Although voting rights were not restored as hoped for persons under community supervision (see above), a bill (SB 5207) that prescribes notification of voting rights while still in prison (rights are restored after one leaves both prison and community supervision) was passed and became effective July 28, 2019.
  • HB 1064. Amends the police accountability Initiative I-940 to honor an agreement arranged by the proponents of I-940 and law enforcement officials; it is now law.

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We celebrated 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) passed the House and the Senate, was signed by the Governor, and is now law.
  • The ombuds office is housed in the governor’s office and provides the opportunity for professionals in the Ombuds Office 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.
  • The new Ombuds Director, Joanna Carns, reached out to Quaker Voice and other supporting organizations to request their input, has met both individually with Quaker Voice and with the larger group of supporting organizations, and continues to do so on a regular basis.
  • 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, has been signed by the Governor, and is now law (Success):

  • LFO reform eliminates the interest (previously 12 percent) on all non-restitution LFOs going forward, requires that courts not impose costs on a defendant who is indigent at the time of sentencing, and places 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:

  • The Washington State Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional on October, 2018.  Previously, legislation to abolish the death penalty (SB 6052), passed the Senate in 2018 on a close and dramatic vote, but was not brought to a vote in the House.  See also above under 2019 session.

Police Accountability (Success):

  • I-940, which enhances police accountability and training in de-escalation and mental health issues, and was endorsed by Quaker Voice, was approved by the WA state electorate in November, 2018.
  • A “good faith” rather than “with malice” standard for police accountability will be used and de-escalation and mental health training will be required.  See also above under 2019 session.

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 consideration for parole after 20 years.  Unfortunately, the bill would be only a first step toward actual consideration for parole and was not passed.  See Post-conviction Review Board above under 2019 session.

Driving with License 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 in 2018.  Driving with license suspended 3 typically occurs for persons unable to pay fines (not for serious actions such as DUI), including low-income people.  See also above under 2019 session.

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:

The Criminal Justice Working Group Practices

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