Woman lighting candle

Rally to End Mass Incarceration!

SIGN UP to participate in the Jan 20 demonstration in Olympia.

We really need you THERE!

Monday, January 20, 2020, 5:30 PM

on the north steps of the capitol building in Olympia.

Check out the outstanding list of organizations that are backing this effort!

ACLU of Washington, Alliances, Black Prisoners Caucus of WSR, Civil Survival, Concerned Lifers Organization, Community Passageways, Designed Conviction, Disability Rights Washington, Faith Action Network, FreedomProject, Justice Involved Student Group at Evergreen, Latino Development Organization, M.O.R.E, Poverty Action Network, Prison PolicyInitiative, Prison Voice Washington, Projects for a Civil Society–Alternatives to Violence Project, Quaker Voice, Seattle Clemency Project, Snohomish County NAACP, Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Washington Defender Association

The program for Olympia

5:00-5:30: music by blues singer Deborah Hawley and hiphop group MSB.
5:30-6:30: Outstanding speakers, most formerly incarcerated, on the perspectives of prisoners, families, and crime survivors. Speakers include:

  • Kurtis Robinson, a formerly incarcerated person, social justice advocate, firefighter, and a member of I Did the Time
  • Jeremiah Bourgeois, sentenced to life without parole at age 14, author of several law journal articles, and a columnist for The Crime Report.
  • Aaron Borrero, formerly incarcerated, and Mari Borrero, owners of American Abatement and Demo, an award-winning business that hires former prisoners
  • Johnmoses Washington, formerly incarcerated member of the Monroe CLO and BPC, advocate for juvenile justice and prison reform
  • Tarra Simmons, a formerly incarcerated attorney and candidate for the House of Representatives in District 23
  • Annie Williams, former DOC official and crime survivor
  • Willie Jimerson, formerly incarcerated, director of ULMS, over education and youth development

Need transportation to Olympia? We’re organizing buses and rides. If you can fill a bus with 56 people, we may be able to pay for the bus – or at least make it more affordable. Contact us at info@prisonvoicewa.org

Yes, we DO have mass incarceration in our state!

If Washington State were a country, it would have the eighth highest incarceration rate in the world, according to the latest research. Our “blue” state has been an eager participant in the incarceration boom of the last 40 years. Since the 1980s our state’s population increased 70%, while our prison population exploded by 225%.

In Olympia, on January 20, we’ll hear from former prisoners, their families, victims, and others about what mass incarceration means.

We will also light 1,300 candles: For the 1,300 men and women in our prisons serving sentences so long they can’t live long enough to complete them; for their victims; and for ourselves, because all of us are affected by mass incarceration. We want our legislators to what mass incarceration looks like.

Check with us at info@prisonvoicewa.org for information about transportation and to sign up to attend.

Will there be a parole bill in the 2020 session?

The situation is still unclear. Sen. Jeannie Darneille intends to revive 5819, a fairly comprehensive sentence review bill that would do many good things but unfortunately was amended to exclude people convicted of aggravated murder. We believe that the designation of “aggravated” is so broad and so unequally applied that it means virtually nothing. If Sen. Darneille succeeds in getting a hearing for this bill, we will support it but testify at the hearing that it doesn’t go far enough–that we need a rigorous review process for everyone, which, of course does not necessarily mean release for everyone.

Also in the works, it has been rumored for months, is a bill from Sen. Dhingra that would provide release for a narrowly defined group of geriatric prisoners. We will decide whether to support that or not when we finally see it. However, we do not generally support the legislators’ favorite approach to big problems: dealing with them in small pieces. We are not convinced that once legislators deal with the easy part–the “low-hanging fruit”–they will be able to find the political will to deal with the difficult cases. We elected them to address the whole problem, not just the relatively easy parts.

I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done…. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law. I also believe … that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. I don’t believe that. I actually think, in too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.

Bryan Stevenson

SIGN UP to participate in the Jan 20 demonstration in Olympia.

It’s Crunch Time for the MLK Rally

Concerned Lifers Organization
Monroe Correctional Complex-WSR
PO Box 777
Monroe WA 98272

January 6, 2020

Concerned Lifers Meeting at WSR in Monroe, WA

Hi Friends,

It’s crunch time. Two weeks from today, on Martin Luther King Day, supporters of CLO are sponsoring a rally in Olympia to end mass incarceration–and we need you there.

We have a goal to flood the steps of the capitol building with 1300 people. The rally will start with speeches from justice-involved people before turning to a song written by prisoners and performed by a blues singer/social activist. We will light 1300 candles, a recognition of the 1300 men and women in Washington sentenced to die in prison, as well as their families, their victims and their families, and all other affected by mass incarceration in our state.

You all know our message, as we’ve been speaking it for years: The corrections apparatus is a bloated and broken system that neither addresses the harm done to victims nor rehabilitates the majority of people who commit crime. It’s too cruel, too common, and too costly. But if we do this rally right, we will create a moment for others to hear this message as well. That moment could spark a movement.

We are counting on each of you to be the crowd.

In Solidarity,

The Concerned Lifers Organization

Retaliation for criticism of DOC backfires, with scathing ombuds report

Joanna Carns
Joanna Carns, WA DOC Ombuds

[Correction 2020-01-10. In the original article, we said “To his credit, Washington DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair approved a number of corrective recommendations by the OCO, including reversing the infractions, returning the complainant to work release, and instituting staff training in avoiding retaliation.” Per private communication with Amy Tate, who has publicly identified herself as the complainant here, the infractions were not reversed. Instead, DOC offered “in lieu of them reversing my 660 infraction they would be willing to reinstate 28 days of good time.” That is now corrected in the article.]

Officials at the Helen B. Ratcliff work release center in Seattle, WA retaliated against a resident for participating in a public forum on work release conditions, according to a recent report from the Washington Office of Corrections Ombuds (OCO). The unnamed complainant, while speaking at the public meeting, had her residence searched, and was subsequently infracted with two violations, resulting in her return to prison and loss of good time. The OCO report found that staff were looking for excuses to infract, with emails saying “We have 2 offenders from our facility who attended the meeting, can you tell me what infraction you are using?” because the complainant was presenting a “PP presentation to bash DOC”. To retaliate against this participation, staff infracted the complainant for “using social media” and for finding an alternate way to receive cash owed her when the way offered by DOC failed and she could not get their assistance.

In investigating the incident, the OCO documented multiple incidents of misrepresentation by the work release staff, such as “the CCO was not accurate in her portrayal of the evidence,” and OCO found facts that were “contrary to what was alleged in the hearing process.” Ultimately it was clear that the infractions were intended as retaliation for attending the public meeting and reporting on conditions at the work release center. The report is a scathing rebuke of the retaliation attempt and subsequent coverup by staff.

To his credit, Washington DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair approved a number of corrective recommendations by the OCO, including reversing the infractions restoring 28 days of good time [correction 2020-01-10], returning the complainant to work release, and instituting staff training in avoiding retaliation.

Unfortunately retaliation against people who DOC perceives as critical is a common problem, according to multiple conversations that Prison Voice has had with friends and family of incarcerated individuals. Some (but by no means all) DOC staff have serious attitude problems toward prisoners and their families, and probably should not be involved with corrections. But even when multiple complaints against individual staff are sustained, the problematic staff continue in their positions of authority.

We call upon DOC to be more aggressive at identifying and removing staff with attitude problems. Misrepresenting facts about individuals in their custody should result in severe sanctions to the accused staff (but rarely does).

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s Clemencies

Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (by Gage Skidmore)
Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (by Gage Skidmore)

This week, outgoing Republican Governor Bevin of Kentucky issued 428 clemencies. Clemency is an issue very relevant to Prison Voice as the moment, as we are very close to releasing our own report on clemency in the state of Washington.

Initial news reports about these clemencies were almost universally negative and sensational:

US Today: Kentucky governor pardons convicted killer whose brother hosted campaign fundraiser for him.

WKYT: Former Kentucky governor pardons convicted child rapist.

WDRB: Bevin pardons convicted murderer, raising ire of Laurel County prosecutor

But later reports are starting to add some nuance to these reports. One particularly interesting commentary was in this oped: “In defense of pardons: It may be the only way to free an innocent person,” particularly this statement:

First and foremost, a pardon is often the only way to free an innocent person. This may sound incredible, but it’s true. Once a person is convicted of a crime, they likely will never again have the opportunity to argue their innocence in court. Appeals and post-conviction challenges are not decided based on guilt or innocence. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that “actual innocence” is not a valid claim to reverse a conviction.

The article continues to explain the justification for one of the more controversial clemencies:

Many of Gov. Bevin’s pardons, including that of “convicted killer” Delmar Partin, were based on the Governor’s belief that an innocent person was in prison. Since Mr. Partin’s pardon, the original prosecutor has expressed outrage, saying that Partin is absolutely guilty. Others, who know nothing about the evidence in the case, are also horrified that Gov. Bevin has freed a “murderer.”

We cannot know whether these claims of innocence are true are not. Maybe we need a category of “maybe innocent,” where if someone has served some fraction of their sentence, but had a less-than-obvious conviction, we give them the benefit of the doubt after awhile. This seems to be what Bevin is doing in many cases.

In our own state of Washington, the clemency process generally proceeds in a very slow but orderly fashion, with about 5 clemencies per year being issued, mostly for three-strikers. This pales in contrast to Bevin’s actions, who just granted over 400 clemencies, including several with murder convictions. In spite of several recommendations to Gov. Inslee for clemency by the state Clemency and Pardons board, in all cases Gov. Inslee has overturned the board and rejected clemency for those with murder convictions.

Fear of the negative headlines that we are now seeing in reponse to Bevin’s pardons is undoubtedly why Inslee has been so reticent to grant clemency to those with the most severe convictions.

Does it have to be this way? We call on the Democrat Inslee to show some of the courage that the Republican Bevin has showed in granting clemencies in controversial cases.

Vigil to End Mass Incarceration on MLK day

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO IN 2020:  COME TO THE MLK-DAY RALLY AGAINST MASS INCARCERATION!  We (1300 people, including you!) will caravan in buses, vans, and private cars from across the state and meet on the north steps of the capitol building in Olympia at 5 p.m. There we’ll take part in a rally to End Mass Incarceration and Mass Victimization. We will hear from a few former prisoners, families, and victims, and listen to some music. We’ll end with a candlelight vigil–we’ll light 1300 candles for the 1300 men and women who are currently serving sentences so long they can’t live to complete them, and for all of the others harmed directly or indirectly by mass incarceration–crime survivors, families of both victims and prisoners, and all of the people whose lives would be improved if the money we spend on locking people up for decades were available for education, reducing homelessness and addiction, addressing mental health. 

WHY A RALLY IN OLYMPIA? Our legislators insist that we don’t have mass incarceration in Washington. They’re wrong. Washington isn’t bad compared to other U.S. states, but that’s only because the U.S. locks up the highest percentage of its people in the world–by far. If Washington were a country, we would be 5th in the world in the percentage of our citizens behind bars, out of about 220 countries. There’s nothing more important you can do for the people in Washington prisons–no greater gift–than to participate in this rally. We need legislators to get this message: THERE IS MASS INCARCERATION IN WASHINGTON AND THAT IS A PROBLEM! 

HOW CAN I GET TO OLYMPIA FROM MY AREA? We have some funding for buses, which hold 56 people. Can you fill a bus with friends and acquaintances from your area? Let us know. Otherwise, we will try to coordinate buses and rides for those who need them. You can indicate when you sign up whether you need or can offer a ride.
 Please sign up and come! Many hopes are riding with you.

IN OTHER NEWS: THE OUTLOOK FOR PAROLE LEGISLATION this year remains murky. 5819 is alive, but barely. It is being rewritten to address the concerns of certain legislators, particularly Sen. Dhingra. It will probably be weakened in the process, but we don’t know yet. Sen. Dhingra intends to run a geriatric release bill; we haven’t seen it yet, but we understand that it’s going to be limited and affect very few people. Rep. Frame may introduce an emerging adults bill that would raise the age limit on juvenile review from 18 to 25, and Rep. Walen may introduce a good, strong geriatric release bill. However, it’s likely that neither of those two bills will be introduced during the 2020 session (This is the short session, which occurs in even-numbered years; legislators are usually unwilling to take on controversial bills during the 60-day session). But that decision, too, is still up in the air. In the meantime, Rep. Roger Goodman has established a Criminal Justice Task Force that is supposed to look at the whole criminal sentencing system as well as the recommendations the Sentencing Guidelines Commission made this year. The task force includes some good people, but the process will take another year at least, and whatever they end up recommending will still have to go through the legislative process.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington

Calling Journalists and University Researchers

Are you a journalist or university researcher who wants to dig deep into Washington State criminal justice issues in a way that will address systemic needs? We are compiling a detailed list of proposed multidisciplinary research questions to give journalists and academics ideas that will help fill areas of research need, along with resources on how to file public records requests and locate existing public data and information. Thank you to all who consider taking on some of these questions!

Get ready to BRING IT!

“We should absolutely look at our progress in the legislature this year as a win.” That’s the message Concerned Lifers Organization and Monroe BPC want to convey to us. They point out that 5819 has gotten farther than we’ve ever gotten in years of trying, that we’ve had live testimony from prisoners for the first time in history, and that our bill is still alive in Ways & Means for next year. Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of Ways & Means, told us that she believes we can pass this bill if we are prepared to put in the work.

Now we have just a few months to make our story as compelling as that of our opponents and get it out to the public, to expand the strong core coalition that we’ve built, to work with those organizations who are open to it, and to make legislators feel as much pressure from us as they do from our opponents. 

We were blindsided in Ways and Means because we expected the committee to restrict the testimony to fiscal matters (which it normally does), particularly because this bill had already gone through not one but two policy committees. Policy committees like Law & Justice are the place in the system where the chance to comment on the content of the bill is made available.

So we believe we’re owed a hearing in Ways & Means that does actually focus on the fiscal issues, an argument we know we can win hands down.
The prisoners have also asked me to express their deep gratitude for your work and support. We are organizing to fight this battle hard on a lot of fronts. We will also be asking more of you! 

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington

Today was ugly

There was suddenly a lot of very vocal opposition at the Ways & Means hearing today, even though it is supposed to be only about fiscal issues.(Generally, they will cut you off if you’re not talking about fiscal issues.) 
The Ways & Means Committee had already met for about 5 hrs when they finally got to our bill, and the discussion was very emotional and heated. The prosecutors organization, sheriffs and police chiefs, and victims advocates all oppose it now. The same three victims showed up and went through their same complaints against the ISRB. Jenny Graham, a Representative whose sister was killed by Gary Ridgway, also adamantly and emotionally opposed the bill. John Carlson, author of the original 3 Strikes bill (it was an initiative), promised to run a new 3 Strikes initiative if this bill is passed, adding more crimes to the list of strikes.  That was the general flavor of the testimony–ugly.
Although Rachael Seevers, Paul Benz, and others represented our side effectively, our chances don’t look good right now. It will take a lot of courage and will from legislators to go forward against this kind of opposition. If they don’t think they can get it passed, they won’t move it. We should find out tonight if it goes forward, since it has to be voted out of Ways & Means tomorrow.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington

Letter from the CLO and BPC (Monroe)

The Concerned Lifers Organization and the Black Prisoners Caucus (Monroe) support moving forward with this legislation and would make the following requests of our advocates: 

  •  We ask that those not included in this legislation not be forgotten and that all advocates commit to this cause and clearly state that they will continue to advocate until we     have review for everyone. 
  • We ask that the coalition continue to fight for amendments to the bill that would expand review eligibility, specifically to emerging adults. 
  • We ask that provisions be put in the bill to continue to study the issues around review and language be adopted that leaves the door open for expanding the review process. 

ToAll the advocates fighting for a comprehensive parole process in Washington State

FromThe Concerned Lifers Organization and The Black Prisoners Caucus (Monroe)

Hello and thank you for your commitment and courage on this issue. 

We obviously are discouraged by the fact that this bill cut out some prisoners. We have had numerous discussions in the last couple of days, and it is the consensus of all (most vocally from those who have aggravated murder convictions) that we must support this bill. To oppose something that would impact so many when we have made so much progress would be inconsistent with our principals.

We would like the coalition to make clear that this fight is not over and that everyone will continue to advocate for this issue until we have legislation that addresses everyone. This means that people on the outside continue to work even after their loved ones have received relief, and the folks on the inside who get out as a result of the work done become advocates for those left behind.

We think it should be noted that many of those who have worked the hardest on this legislation from the inside are the ones who are saying that they are willing to set aside their own needs for relief to support this bill. This should not be forgotten. 

We would like to continue to find ways to amend this bill and would make the following suggestions:

  • As the bill addresses the issue of juveniles we still think that there is a possibility (although maybe slim) to get the language from Rep. Frame’s draft amended into this legislation. We ask that you advocate for language in the bill that raises the age for the juvenile review process to those convicted under the age of 25. (See Rep. Frame’s bill draft H 1457.1/19) 
  • This wouldn’t address everyone but it would be a step in the right direction. 

We would like to immediately develop a strategy for getting a comprehensive geriatric bill passed. A couple of ideas:  

  • As this bill has provisions for review after 60, add language to this bill to create a study of those released through this process as a precursor to expanding this provision to include all.
  • Put out information from DRW and others to make clear to support groups that this bill may be a step in the right direction but it does not solve the tremendous challenges facing WA as the prison population ages.  
  • Put in amended language to create a study to look at WA aging prison population and develop solutions.

We would like to point out that this bill has some great points and we as a group are excited to have made the progress we have. We also think that this bill opens up the possibility to look at other issues that we may be able to explore to get relief for everyone. (New study on racial disproportionality in Ag. Murder?)

We also want to thank you all for your work in this field and we hope you will continue to stand with us on these critical issues as we work for comprehensive sentence reform in WA state. 

The CLO and BPC 

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington