In our first Alert for the 2001 session of the Washington State Legislature, we’d like to focus on criminal justice concerns. We’ll be touching on other areas of interest in future alerts.
DRUG TREATMENT RATHER THAN INCARCERATION.
The passage of California’s Proposition 36 mandating treatment rather than incarceration for most nonviolent drug offenders charged with simple possession has created great interest in what might be done here this year. SB 5419 has been introduced in the Senate by Julia Patterson with several cosponsors, and HB 1722 has been introduced in the House by Mary Lou Dickerson and cosponsors, both providing for treatment rather than incarceration for simple drug possession. The senate bill also eliminates triple scoring for prior drug offenses, as does HB 1863, and lowers the sentences for drug delivery from Level VIII to Level VI, while HB 1863 and a draft bill prepared by King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng lowers delivery to only Level VII, and excludes methamphetamine. Maleng is responding to the threat of a Washington initiative and to the King County Bar Association, which is recommending a much stronger treatment package that would also apply to existing prisoners, and the threat of a possible Washington initiative. Maleng’s bill, which has been endorsed in basic principle by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, doesn’t mandate treatment, but instead leaves it up to local jurisdictions, and like SB 5419 provides that savings in prison costs will be used for treatment programs.
What all of this means is that there is a real opportunity for lowering the sentences of drug offenders, and for providing more effective and humane dispositions based on treatment rather than imprisonment. How significant the reductions and how substantial the treatment alternatives will depend on how much pressure legislators feel from the public.
Those who believe substantial change is needed should contact their own legislators as well as those serving on the key committees, which at this point are the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rep. Dickerson’s bill HB 1722, the first to come to hearing, is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 16 at 8 am in the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, HHR E. Sen. Patterson’s bill, SB 5419, along with Norm Maleng’s substitute, are apparently scheduled for hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Feb. 19 at 10 am, SHR 1. The names of the committee members as well as copies of the bills are available on the legislature’s website, http://www.leg.wa.gov Legislators’ email addresses are the first eight letters of their last name followed by a single underline, then the first two letters of their first name, then @leg.wa.gov. For example, Julia Patterson would be email@example.com.
We recommend that Friends urge legislators to support a bill (1) that provides for treatment in lieu of confinement for any offender who is found to have a chemical dependency that has contributed to a minor, nonviolent drug offense, including minor delivery and including those currently confined in jail or prison, (2) that provides the same treatment opportunity for eligible drug offenders across the state, rather than making treatment discretionary with each local jurisdiction, (3) that reduces the seriousness level of drug delivery back down from Level VIII to its original Level VI, eliminates triple-scoring, and reduces the range of confinement for existing prisoners as well as future offenders, providing very substantial cost savings, (4) that dedicates saved prison costs to treatment programs, and (5) that provides for deferred prosecution for any eligible drug offender who participates in treatment. These are the same points recommended by the King County Bar Association and represent the most substantial proposal for effective treatment and savings in prison costs. For those who feel strongly about the need for reforming our drug laws, this is an excellent time to act.
Death Penalty Study and Moratorium. Two bills have been introduced which would create a task force to review the application of the death penalty in Washington State, HB 1647 which includes a two-year moratorium on executions, and HB 1648, which provides only a study. Both are sponsored by Rep. Ed Murray along with several cosponsors, and are set for hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 13 in the House Judiciary Committee at 1:30 pm, HHR B. Despite similar action by other states, these bills, particularly the moratorium bill, will need all the help they can get from interested supporters. Members of the Judiciary committee are Rep. Mike Carrell, Patricia Lantz, Chris Hurst, Kathy Lambert, Marc Boldt, Sarah Casada, Mary Lou Dickerson, Luke Esser, John Lovick, and Joe McDermott. Death penalty survivor Sonia Jacobs will be speaking in Seattle on Feb. 20, Olympia on Feb. 21 and Tacoma on Feb. 22. Contact WAC at 206-625-9790 for details.
Lengthening Prison Terms. A comprehensive review of all prison terms is now underway by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and its working groups pursuant to the bill drafted by FCWPP which we successfully lobbied through the legislature last session. Nevertheless, a number of bills have been introduced this session which would have the effect of further lengthening prison terms and increasing prison populations at the expense of other needed public programs, including social services, treatment and rehabilitation.
We need to strongly urge our legislators to resist the lengthening of criminal sentences this session, in deference to the overall review of proportionality and cost-effectiveness being undertaken by the commission, and the many other critical demands on our public funds.
FCWPP has itself sent an appeal to key legislators on this issue. We urge individual Friends to also encourage legislators to hold the line on further lengthening of sentences, particularly when adding prison costs under present budget constraints will take funds away from essential social services to the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society.
We would appreciate it if you would send a blind copy of your emails or other correspondence with legislators to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to:
PO Box 1222
Walla Walla, WA 99362.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.