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  • Sam Merrill is Clerk of the Criminal Justice Working Group. Contact Sam Merrill.
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Criminal Justice Legislative Plans for 2022

(updated 9/29/2021)

Given the short (60-day) legislative session in 2022, much of our effort will be focused on revising or completing the spectacular progress achieved in the 2021 session.  But likely, the primary new legislation on which we will focus will be:

  • HB 1282: Earned Release Time (ERT).  This long overdue reform would greatly increase the amount of earned release time that persons in prison — who are considered to have a positive participation in educational and rehabilitative programming — can accrue (raised from 10-15% to 33% accrual in most cases).  This option would increase hope as well as motivation to participate in such programs.  Our work can focus on ascertaining why the bill failed to progress last year and what needs to be done to overcome that.
  • HB 1078 : Voting Rights for persons in prison. Full restoration of voting rights for persons released from prison but still under community supervision was passed into law last session and will take effect Jan. 1, 2022, twelve years after conditional restoration for persons no longer in community supervision had been approved.  So, progress in voting rights is a long-term effort.  Restoration of voting rights for persons still incarcerated in our state’s prisons would be the final step in the effort in our state to overturn a law that disproportionately impacts people of color and is itself a vestige of oppression and discrimination in our country that dates back centuries.

Several bills passed last session that may require modification or other follow-up include:

  • Police Reform and Racial Equity (the following are two of several such bills): 
    (1) Prohibition of certain military equipment for police use, and certain forms of use of force (HB 1054).
    (2) Decertification of officers guilty of wrong-doing (SB 5051).
    Further legislation could include funding alternatives to incarceration such as diversion and use of professionals in the areas of substance abuse and mental health.
  • Debt-based Drivers’ License Suspension.  The substitute bill that was passed (SB 5226) would permit suspension of licenses in some cases arising from failure to pay fines.  However, two court cases have meanwhile been successful.  An ACLU suit in Thurston County Superior Court led to a ruling that license suspension for persons unable to pay fines is unconstitutional.  Another case decision specifies that licenses must be returned retroactively to approximately 100,000 persons, and going forward, no suspensions are allowed until January of 2023.
  • Blake decision follow-up.  Following a court order (Blake decision) that rendered it unconstitutional to sentence persons for unknowing possession of controlled substances, a law (SB 5476) was quickly passed at the end of the last session that changed knowing possession of controlled substances from a felony to a gross misdemeanor.  Quaker Voice intends to monitor other possible related legislation.

Other likely legislative efforts:

  • SB 5047: Abolishing the Death Penalty.
  • Bail-related Reform.  Uniform Release and Detention Act (SB 5307) would provide an alternative to money bail for persons who are not a threat to harm themselves or others and when that is not the case, would restrict a court from imposing bail exceeding the defendant’s ability to pay.
  • School Resource Officers.  It has been proposed that funds not be used for police in schools unless they are first made available for alternatives such as substance use professionals.

Issues to Research and Monitor as Needed

  • Post-conviction Review Board (for persons serving long sentences)
  • Incarcerated Elderly: Special concerns for elderly persons in prison

Criminal Justice Progress for 2021

  • Voting Rights under Community Supervision: Restoration of voting rights for persons released from prison but still under the authority of the Dept. of Corrections for community supervision (HB 1078) was passed and signed into law.
  • Police Reform and Racial Equity (the following are three of several such bills that were passed and are now law): 
    (1) Prohibition of certain military equipment for police use, and certain forms of use of force (HB 1054).
    (2) Decertification of officers guilty of wrong-doing (SB 5051).
    (3) Independent Investigation.  Independent investigation by  the governor’s office for police action involving deadly force (HB 1267) was passed and is now law.
    Further legislation could include funding alternatives to incarceration such as diversion and use of professionals in the areas of substance abuse and mental health.
  • Debt-based Drivers’ License Suspension.  The substitute bill that was passed (SB 5226) would permit suspension of licenses in some cases arising from failure to pay fines.  However, two court cases have meanwhile been successful.  An ACLU suit in Thurston County Superior Court led to a ruling that license suspension for persons unable to pay fines is unconstitutional.  Another case decision specifies that licenses must be returned retroactively to approximately 100,000 persons, and going forward, no suspensions are allowed until January of 2023.
  • Blake decision follow-up.  Following a court order (Blake decision) that rendered it unconstitutional to sentence persons for unknowing possession of controlled substances, a law (SB 5476) was quickly passed at the end of the last session that changed knowing possession of controlled substances from a felony to a gross misdemeanor.  Quaker Voice intends to monitor other possible related legislation.
  • End Private Detention Facilities. HB 1090 was passed and is now law.  However, existing contracts will be honored to their termination date.
  • Post-secondary Education in Prison. HB 1044 was passed and permits Dept. of Corrections to implement post-secondary education in prison, and pay for it under certain conditions.
  • Earned Release Time.  Earned Release Time (HB 1282) was not passed; efforts to pass it will be continued in subsequent years. The bill would permit persons in prison to accrue earned release time at 33% across the board (up from mostly 10-15% now).

Criminal Justice Progress for 2020

Although the passage of new bills fell below Quaker Voice expectations in the 2020 session, we were remarkably pleased with the success in implementing the corrections ombuds bill that we championed for many years until its passage in 2018.  But first, two bills we supported in 2020 are now law:

  • A bill to prohibit contracts by the WA Dept. of Corrections for privately-operated prisons.
  • A “bail-jumping” bill that will reduce penalties for not appearing in court, which tend to affect low-income people most.

Unfortunately, several of our priority issues were not resolved in 2020 and await further work, including:

(1) Abolishing the Death Penalty

(2) Restoration of voting rights for persons released from prison but under community supervision (passed into law in 2021)

(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.

Criminal Justice Progress for 2019

  • 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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Criminal Justice Progress for 2018

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.  

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.

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.  

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.  

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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