- Sam Merrill is Clerk of the Criminal Justice Working Group. Contact Sam Merrill.
- Sign up for emails from the Quaker Voice Criminal Justice Working Group.
Criminal Justice Priorities for 2023
- HB 1087/SB 5135. Solitary Confinement: The Dept. of Corrections ended its use of solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes in 2021. HB 1087/SB 5135 would confirm that change into law, and extend it by prohibiting involuntary solitary confinement except for medical isolation and when there is danger to the individual or to others. It would place limitations on its use for vulnerable persons, impose time limits, require medical evaluations, and establish standards for living conditions. As testified by a person who has experienced it, solitary confinement is traumatic and dehumanizing. The House Committee on Community Safety, Justice, & Re-entry voted to advance HB 1087 on Jan. 20 and is scheduled for a Hearing in House Appropriations on Feb. 2. SB 5135 had a hearing on Jan. 23.
- HB 1268. Discretion in Sentencing Enhancements: This bill would permit judicious discretion concerning the stacking of sentence enhancements that generate pronounced racial inequity and excessive sentences. For too long, people of color have disproportionately received sentences of great length. During public testimony in the House in 2021, Department of Corrections staff testified that 29% of the individuals serving time with enhancements for weapons were Black. This compares with 4.2% of our state’s population that is Black. Under this bill, judges may still add enhancements (additional years in prison) if the case warrants extra sentencing length, but they would not be mandatory as they are now. This judicial discretion was supported unanimously by the Criminal Sentencing Task Force. It’s now time to remove vestiges of the get-tough-on-crime and war-on-drugs days of the 1980s; HB 1268 works in that direction. The House Committee on Community Safety, Justice, & Re-entry is scheduled to vote whether to advance HB 1268 on Feb. 2.
- SB 5120: Establishing 23-hour crisis relief centers. Directs Dept. of Health to license 23-Hour Crisis Relief Centers, a new type of crisis diversion facility to serve persons regardless of behavioral/mental health acuity. Would be most helpful 4 pm to 9 am when other facilities are not available. This proposal is related to the workforce development bill SB 5189, which is a Priority bill of the Economic Justice Working Group. SB 5120 was advanced out of Senate Committee on Health & Long-Term Care on 1/26 and is now in Senate Ways and Means.
Additional Criminal Justice Supported Bills for 2023
- HB 1024: Pay at least minimum wage for an incarcerated person working in prison. Successfully voted out of policy committee on 1/19; hearing in H. Approp. 1/20.
- HB 1174: Remove barriers to voting in jail. Voting in a county or municipal jail (not in a state prison) is legal, but may be difficult. This bill requires county auditors to create a plan and provide voter registration information, ballot-related information, and ballots to people who are incarcerated in a county or municipal jail. Policy committee vote held on 1/31; results available later.
- HB 1513 (and SB 5572): Limits officers’ use of traffic stops and detentions for non-moving violations, and requires written consent for searches. Creates a grant program to help low-income motorists to repair infractions. Hearing in House policy committee was held on 1/30.
- SB 5046: Permits providing counsel at public expense to make it practical for persons without means to pursue post-conviction re-sentencing for unjust criminal judgments. Successfully voted out of policy committee on 1/19; hearing in Senate Ways & Means on 1/31.
- SB 5078 (and HB 1130): Industry liability for firearms. Creates a private right of action for individuals who have suffered harm as a result of a firearm industry member’s violation of specified duties. Successfully voted out of policy committee on 1/19; hearing in Senate Ways & Means on 1/31.
- SB 5131: Exempt funds for persons in prison from outside sources (such as from family) from deductions. Passed policy committee; in Senate Ways & Means.
- SB 5134: Preparation for and specified services for reentry, together with raising gate money (money provided upon release) from $40 to at least $300. Passed policy committee; in Senate Ways & Means.
Criminal Justice Legislative Report for 2022
One of our three priority issues for the 2022 session as well as one of our other support bills passed this session. This was somewhat disappointing, but given the short (60-day) legislative session in this election year, it was a significant success, and efforts on the other two priorities laid the ground work for next session.
- HB 1412: Waive Restitution (part of LFOs) for Persons Unable to Pay. HB 1412 passed the House 70-24 and passed the Senate 38-11, was signed by the Governor, and will become effective 1/1/2023. Allows a court to not impose or waive full or partial restitution and the accrued interest if the offender does not have the ability to pay. To protect victims, this would only be allowed if owed to insurers or state agencies rather than to individuals. The final bill made exceptions for restitution owed to the Dept. of Labor and Industries and for the Crime Victims Compensation Program. Formerly incarcerated individuals struggle to maintain employment and housing, so the bill is about reentry and helping people succeed after incarceration.
- HB 1169. Unstacking Sentencing Enhancements, particularly school zone enhancements. Would have provided court discretion to unstack enhancements, which are currently mandatory. Enhancements, especially when stacked on top of one another, substantially increase sentences, thus creating excessive time incarcerated. For example, years are now added to sentences for drug offenses in a “school zone.” This includes any area within 1000 feet of a school bus route, which can be an entire city, as in Seattle and most of Tacoma. Research shows only 2% of drug crimes in such zones involve selling drugs to children. The provision doesn’t protect children; it is effectively arbitrary. HB 1169 passed the House 53-45, but due to expected lack of votes, was not brought to a vote in the Senate. Quaker Voice is now meeting with legislators to advocate for this legislation and plans to push for its passage in the 2023 session.
- HB 1756. Solitary Confinement. Dept. of Corrections ended solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes in 2021. HB 1756 would have prohibited involuntary solitary confinement except for facility-wide lockdown, medical isolation, or when necessary for emergency purposes. It would place limitations on its use for vulnerable persons, imposes time limits, requires medical evaluations, and establishes standards for living conditions. As testified by a person who has experienced it, solitary confinement is traumatic and dehumanizing. This bill failed to get beyond House Rules Committee; Quaker Voice is meeting with legislators during inter-session and will pursue passage of this bill in 2023.
- HB 1818. Passed the House 87-10 and the Senate 48-0, and was signed by the Governor. It will become effective 6/9/2022. Promotes Successful Re-entry and Rehabilitation, in particular extending the period for which a housing voucher can be offered.
- HB 1681. Would mandate Vacation of Certain Convictions. Cut-off.
- HB 1413. Would remove Juvenile Offenses from Criminal History Scoring. Cut-off.
- SB 5307. Pretrial Release and Detention Act. Would establish clear, uniform criteria for the pretrial process and require court to consider financial resources of accused. Current bail system makes release dependent on ability to pay. Cut-off.
Two other bills that we monitored but did not actively work for were passed and are now law: HB 1735 will help clarify police role in behavioral health incidents; HB 2037 will clarify police use of force.
Other issues to continue monitoring:
- SB 5047: Abolishing the Death Penalty.
- 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.
- SB 5036: Expansion of Clemency and Pardons (passed the Senate in 2022 but not the House).
Issues Put on Hold
- 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.
- 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 in 2021 and took effect Jan. 1, 2022, twelve years after conditional restoration for persons no longer in community supervision was approved. 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. This effort is on hold.
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 in 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.
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:
- Justice and Crime in Washington State 2014: A resource list
- Read More on our Facebook page
- Firearm Fatalities in Washington State updated 10-29-2013