IMPORTANT: Strange bad news

Ironically, the big problem facing us now is that committees in both Houses have passed legislation to do away with the death penalty. That should be a good thing, but it affects us very negatively, because legislators feel the need to guarantee that people sentenced to death never get out. As a result, post-conviction review for all people convicted of agg murder, whether or not they were sentenced to death, appears to be off the table as a result. That does not mean that our bill won’t go forward, but that it will probably exclude agg murder.We can’t let this be the last word on the subject! It must be possible to amend our bill to say that a person convicted of agg murder is eligible for review unless s/he has received the death penalty. In the meantime, I suggest we write to Dhingra and Pedersen, who seem to be working on a substitute bill (per J. Darneille’s email below), and ask them to find a way to make this happen.

manka.dhingra@leg.wa.gov

jamie.pedersen@leg.wa.gov

Otherwise, LWOP for the 8 people on death row means no review for hundred of others. There is a better way to do this. 
Below is the email that went out from Darneille’s office last night, while I was at the prison talking to the men in the CLO/BPC.

Subject: Post-Conviction Review Board Bill – update

Good evening all,

We had a very successful hearing in the Law and Justice Committee and I appreciate so much the outpouring of support for the development of a new post-conviction review board to help provide hope for people with long and life sentences.  My concerns that the bill would have a tougher time coming out of the Law and Justice Committee compared with the Human Services Committee were not founded.  Senators Pedersen and Dhingra are working on a substitute bill and there are several moving parts.  With the vote by all Democrats on both committees to eliminate the death penalty, the conflict exists with that language that a person sentenced for aggravated murder will receive life without possibility of parole.  I do not anticipate, therefore, that persons convicted of an aggravated murder will be eligible for a review by a post-conviction review board.  Other issues continue to be discussed, but will be determined soon, as the bill must be voted out of committee this week.  I appreciate very much the input and advocacy of everyone on this bill and recognize that our success with moving the bill forward will also come with some disappointments about the terms of the substitute and possibly additional amendments that may come up along the way, hopefully, to the Governor’s desk.

Respectfully,

Jeannie Darneille
State Senator, 27th Legislative District
237 John A. Cherberg Bldg.
P.O. Box 40427
Olympia, WA 98504-0427
Phone:  (360) 786-7652
Toll free: (800) 562-6000
Jeannie.Darneille@leg.wa.gov
Legislative Assistant:  Lisa Fisch
Session Aide:  Leena Vo
Session Intern:  Nate Williams

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington
206-276-9128 

Ideas for notes to legislators

Answering your questions about what to say when you write to legislators. Most important, tell them clearly what you want them to do, something like, “I’m writing to ask you to support SB5819 (Post-Conviction Review)  in the executive session Thursday.” Below are some possible additions, but don’t hesitate to just write your own personal reasons. Those are always very strong. Doesn’t have to be long–2 or 3 sentences are fine.

  • It’s an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money to keep people in prison when they no longer pose a threat to anyone–especially when our prisons are over capacity. It is also inhumane.
  • Aging prisoners cost four times as much to house and are highly unlikely to commit new crimes.
  • A post-conviction review system would create hope in a hopeless system and motivate prisoners to improve themselves.
  • The most racially disproportionate population of prisoners are those serving very long sentences, This bill would offer us a chance to finally correct that.
  • This bill does not “open the flood gates.” It is about review for everyone and carefully considered release for some. 
  • This bill provides careful consideration of who should be released based on at least 15 years of behavioral data and risk assessment. Right now, there is no review at all before a person is released.
  • There is nothing the legislature could do that would more dramatically change the culture inside our prisons from despair to hope, from apathy to achievement, than passing this bill.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington
206-276-9128

Update–Executive session already scheduled!

Wow! Looks like Law & Justice is serious about moving 5819! Sen. Pedersen has already scheduled the bill for executive session next week on the 21st, which is the vote that will move it out of this committee before the deadline. Congratulations! Your work emailing the committee and making the Olympia trip is already paying off.

If you haven’t written the committee members yet, between now and the 21st is the perfect time. Here are the addresses again, with the correct address for Padden this time. 

jamie.pedersen@leg.wa.gov  

manka.dhingra@leg.wa.gov 

lynda.wilson@leg.wa.gov 

patty.kuderer@leg.wa.gov 

jeff.holy@leg.wa.gov 

jesse.salomon@leg.wa.gov

mike.padden@leg.wa.gov

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington
206-276-9128 

Update: Today’s hearing (Feb 14, 2019)

We still don’t have the substitute bill, so  today’s hearing was on the current version. 
Testimony against the bill came primarily from the prosecutors’ and the sheriffs/police chiefs associations–they even dragged out the specter of releasing Gary Ridgeway. But prosecutors did suggest that they might consider this review system if agg murder and murder required 20 or 25 years to be eligible for a hearing. That’s a reasonable point of negotiation. Most of the victim testimony came from a single family and was as much about the incompetence of the ISRB and the hassle of being asked repeatedly for input as it was about the punishment for the person who did it. 
Testimony in favor of the bill. We had a strong and detailed presentation by Jeannie Darneille on why we needed the legislation and how it came about, as well as strong testimony from a number of panels, including former prisoners, family members, Katherine Beckett (UW researcher), DRW (about elderly prisoners). We also had crime survivors testifying in favor of the bill. The most memorable and emotional testimony of the day, to me, came from a victim who’d nearly been killed and is now about to become a father. He demanded that the government not use the fact that he had been hurt as an excuse for hurting someone else.
What’s next? Well, we’ll have to let you know. Normally, if we weren’t waiting on the substitute, the bill would be scheduled for executive action in the next day or two (that is, a vote by the committee to move it forward). But perhaps they’ll do something exceptional in this case. One way or the other, the bill must move forward before Feb 22, the deadline for getting it out of the committee, to have a chance of passing this session.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington
206-276-9128

Hearing at 10 tomorrow Feb 14! Room 4, Cherberg Building

If you can, please come to Olympia on Feb 14 to show your support for SB5819! This is the most important criminal justice bill in 35 years, and the momentum is in our favor RIGHT NOW.

Sen.Pedersen, chair of the Law & Justice committee, expects to give the bill about 40 minutes in a jam-packed agenda. We (the coalition of organizations working on this bill) have put together four panels of testimony to include a spectrum of important voices.

If you haven’t done so yet, please contact members of the committee and let them know that you support SB5819 and, briefly, why.

jamie.pedersen@leg.wa.gov
manka.dhingra@leg.wa.gov 
lynda.wilson@leg.wa.gov 
patty.kuderer@leg.wa.gov 
jeff.holy@leg.wa.gov 
jesse.salomon@leg.wa.gov
mike.padden@leg.wa.gov

See you all tomorrow Feb 14! I’ll be wearing a name tag. Come and introduce yourselves!

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington
206-276-9128

Historic day! Prisoners testify in WA legislature

Sen. Darneille’s committee heard live testimony on Feb 7 from prisoners–a first! Watch online in the TVW archives at https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2019021111.

Who’s eligible for review? We have been concerned that the current version of Darneille’s bill, 5819, seems to exclude those convicted of aggravated murder. But according to Sen. Darneille’s office, that was not her intention and should be corrected in a revised version due out in the next day or so. The revised bill should also include the edits from the CLO, BPC, and DRW.

SENATE HEARING on Valentine’s Day. The bill (5819) has ended up in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, and the revised version is scheduled for a hearing there at 1:30 on the 14th. However, that committee has an extremely full agenda that day. We’re working with Sen. Darneille’s and Sen. Pedersen’s offices to figure out what specific testimony is needed and will let you know.

ACTION in the House! Representative Frame has told us that she intends to be the prime sponsor for both the Emerging Adult Bill and the companion bill to the Senate’s 5819–wonderful news! (A “companion bill” is an identical bill introduced simultaneously in the other chamber. That means both bills can progress to Floor votes at the same time, speeding up the process.) Unfortunately, Rep. Pettigrew, who had originally agreed to prime the Elderly Prisoners bill, decided to not to include everyone, removing agg murder from his draft. We have told him that we simply can’t support that, so it remains to be seen whether anything will happen with that bill.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington
206-276-9128

Statement on Coyote Ridge Hunger Strike

Prison Voice Washington is keeping in touch with families of those incarcerated at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center as prisoners there continue a hunger strike in protest of the Correctional Industries factory food system. Concerns about the food appear to be consistent with complaints at several other prisons in Washington State: nutritional quality of the food fails to comply with the standards of the DOH Healthy Nutrition Guidelines, as required by Executive Order 13-06, and the cold “breakfast boats” (bagged breakfasts) are heavy in refined carbohydrates and deficient in fresh fruit and protein. The primary sources of protein in these breakfast boats are small powdered milk packets and packets of hydrogenated-oil packed peanut butter. The Washington Department of Corrections and its revenue branch, Correctional Industries, have received ongoing pressure from many stakeholder groups and public officials since the Prison Voice Washington report on the DOC-CI food model came out in 2016. In response, DOC and CI have promised to reinstate more nutritious hot breakfasts served in dining halls at all prisons in the state over the next couple of years, phasing out the nutritionally deficient bagged breakfasts served cold in prison cells. This process has already begun at Washington State Penitentiary in response to an April 2018 hunger strike at that facility. Monroe Correctional Complex is slated to be the next facility to have hot breakfasts reinstated, though we have yet to see what negotiations might occur between DOC and those incarcerated at Coyote Ridge who are tired of waiting for healthy food in sufficient quantities, as mandated by Executive Order 13-06. 

Parole Legislative Update #4

SB5819 is now the official bill number of the post-conviction review bill coming from Jeannie Darneille’s office (what used to be S-1138.1). You can read it online on the legislature’s website, leg.wa.gov. But the bill itself is very long (over 100 pages) and fairly confusing. More helpful–and coming soon to the legislature’s website–is the much shorter Bill Report, the document legislators themselves rely on to tell them what’s in the bill. 

Work session:  This Thursday committee members will hear testimony from the prisoners in the Concerned Lifers Organization and the Black Prisoners Caucus at WSR. (This is unprecedented, as far as I know. Kudos to Jeannie Darneille!) There will not be public testimony at this hearing, but I am told that legislators will have an opportunity for back-and-forth dialog with the prisoners. Tune in to TVW at 1:30 on Thursday to hear the prisoners’ testimony.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington 206-276-9128 

Update #3 on Post-Conviction Review

Friends–Excellent hearing today! Thank you for your written testimony, and for coming to Olympia. Sen. Darneille told me she had gotten lots of emails and testimony. I’m sure we were able to communicate that there’s great deal of support for this bill.

Almost all testimony today was favorable. Prosecutors sounded generally sympathetic with the proposal but suggested that maybe some crimes should require longer than 15 years before review. The WASPC (WA Assn of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs) rep had not really seen the bill, but suggested two ideas anyway that I hope will disappear when he’s had time to think about them: 1) that the review process should not be retroactive to the people currently in prison and 2) that the clemency and pardons board should make the review decision rather than the new board that the bill would create. Otherwise, testimony was very positive and the suggested changes were minimal.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

  • The bill incorporating everyone’s suggestions will be dropped early next week and receive a bill number then. (It has grown to 100 pages, not because the proposal has changed, but because some necessary language changes they had to make. Most of it was already in the law but required minor changes.) We will put the bill up on our website as soon as it’s ready. prisonvoicewa.org.
  • Sen. Darneille announced that a week from today they will hear testimony from the prisoners at Monroe. More on that when we learn the details.
  • We are eagerly waiting to see who will sponsor the companion bill in the House

BTW, we have double checked with Sen. Darneille’s office, and both of these addresses j.darneille@leg.wa.gov and jeannie.darneille@leg.wa.gov are good.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington 206-276-9128 

Prisoner testimony for Post-Conviction Review

Quotes from prisoner testimony regarding Post-Conviction Review*

From members of the Concerned Lifers Organization and the Black Prisoners Caucus at WSR, Jan 28, 2019

* These excerpts are verbatim except that a few punctuation marks were added where necessary for understanding and a few spelling mistakes corrected

1. I was sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP) for a crime I committed when I was 19 years old. I’ve been in prison for 35 years. I can’t tell you what it would be like to have hope, because my circumstance has never allowed me to have it. But I can describe hopelessness.

LWOP is hopelessness. Every day you wonder how much closer you are to the end of your sentence. You can’t help it, because that’s a human being’s natural reaction to incarceration–to yearn to reach its end, no matter what it is. You learn to survive if you can, to exist, but it’s only a holding on, a dogged refusal to quit. It’s not because there’s a pathway in front of you down which you might walk in order to redeem yourself. At no point in this sentence are you allowed in any way to make up for the crime you committed as a young person–no matter how vast the difference between who you were at the time of the offense and what you do or make of yourself in the decades after. Nothing is in front of you except the end point of the sentence, all you were really sent to prison to do, to die here. With no point to work toward other than your own physical expiration, your will to live inverts, it turns in on itself. You feel as though you’re being crushed, as though you can’t draw in breath, as though you’re only pretending to still be alive.

Please pass a bill that would allow for sentence review so that I and others who’ve worked hard to reform ourselves can know what hope is.

Arthur Longworth

2. On January 25th 2016, another prisoner attempted to murder corrections officer Terry Breedlove at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. As officer Breedlove lay unconscious, the assailant repeatedly struck him with a large piece of steel. Myself and another prisoner named Lee Hamilton stopped the assailant and literally saved Breedlove’s life. No officers were around to help Mr. Breedlove, and if not for myself and Hamilton, he would have died.

Why is this relevant to the discussion of a review process? Both Lee Hamilton and myself were sentenced to Life Without Parole.

Ray Williams

3. I was arrested at 18 years of age in 1991; I am now 46 years old and going into my 28th year in prison. … My current release date is 2049–which is way past my life expectancy. To say that I am the same man today that I was 28 years ago would be like saying the caterpillar is the same as the butterfly or the tadpole is the same as the frog. …

I am not afraid to die in prison–I have already had to accept that as a very real possibility. What I am afraid of is that I will die before I have ever had a chance to live.  This bill is important to me for obvious reasons, but most importantly … because it will provide hope.  And hope is like air–we need it to live.

Eugene Youngblood

4. Incarcerated 30 years as of 2019, 78 years old. Sentenced to LWOP for 2 homicides. I have incurable chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLU)–in remission for about 1 year with targeted chemotherapy; 3 heart stents in right coronary artery; replacement left hip implant; high blood pressure; hypothyroid condition, cataracts in both eyes. Chemotherapy alone retails at about $10,000 per month. Have not had a major infraction for 20 years and have never been put into IMU.

 Bill Pawlyk

5. This bill will give a person like myself that was given a de facto life sentence at age 29 (64 years) a valuable opportunity to show the review board and society that I have changed. …  Please don’t let where you find us define us.

Randall Embry

6. My crime, first degree assault, under the SRA is 100 to 133 months. [Yet] I’m on my 37th year and a good time sentence of 50 years minimum. The constitution guarantees to be treated equal under the law. How can someone commit the same crime under the exact conditions and criminal history serve 9 years and the other 37 years and counting?

Patrick Robinson

7.I have been in prison almost 20 years on a 25-year mandatory sentence for first degree murder. I came to prison at the age of 19 and turned myself in on this murder. I am not eligible for any good time. In March of 2018 I went to a clemency hearing. I was given a recommendation of 4-0 for a grant, but in December I was denied by the governor because he said I had done nothing extraordinary. When I went to my hearing I had no opposition, even my prosecutor said I should be released, as well as my victim’s grandma…. As a first time offender, I believe that there should be opportunities for second chances.

Richard Eugene Tullis

8. My family and community has witnessed my transformation and has since forgiven me and now desires to see me come home and contribute positively to my Hilltop community after causing so much destruction. I owe them the opportunity to reconcile in person, not by wasting away in prison.

Vincent J. Sherrill

9. I am a 67-year-old, old-guidelines prisoner who entered the DOC as a juvenile in 1970. With 48.7 years of incarceration, I have witnessed the pendulum of WA-DOC policy swing extremely in both directions. …Many of us are hopeful that this bill will lead the pathway to a new SRA. When the SRA was enacted, it served to burn away many of the positive elements created by Gov. Evans and Dr. Conte.

Kenneth Agtuca

10. I am 3½ years into a 32½-year sentence. The opportunity to get in front of a post conviction review board would dramatically change the lives of everyone it affects by giving them hope. … A real change occurs in prison for any people after a decade or more of incarceration, and to continue to ignore real and positive changes in behavior does a disservice to everyone involved.

Scott Loun

11. [Serving 12½ years] All of the men in my life that have helped me reach the path of rehabilitation would be impacted by this bill. Most of them have been in long enough to make 15 years look like a drop in the bucket. They helped me have my “ah-ha” moment. They left a life of crime and decided or found that there was another option, another way to deal with all the trauma that we have been through in our entire lives. …

I just want anyone to not see us for our absolute worst moment in life, but see us for who we are entirely! A child, a son, a father, an uncle, a winner, and most important, a human being with all the potential in the world. Just give me a chance and I swear I won’t let you down!

Travis Turner

12. The post conviction board would be good because it would give most prisoners a chance to get their act together while they are still incarcerated. It can be used as incentive so prisoners can have something to look forward to. Thank you!

Andrew Rowe

13. I’ve been in prison for over 19 years and am set to be released in approximately 24 months…. I believe [this piece of legislation] is necessary in order to bring back hope into the lives of thousands and systemic change to a system that for the last 30+ years has focused on incapacitation. Creating a process for early release will incentivize change and shift the culture in prison, causing individuals to be more reflective and intentional about their transformation. I believe this will result in safer prisons and also safer people returning to the community.

Devon Adams

14. In 2006 I was charged with second degree murder at the age of 16. I received 23 years as a result of being sentenced as an adult.  I have served thus far close to 13 years. And today I am a completely different man. … But as long as I am incarcerated I can be of no service to anyone. Not to my family, not my community, not the world.  I would like the state to make a positive investment in me by bringing in a suitable parole system so that I may take that investment and reinvest in making the world a better place.

Tony Tyson

15. Hope is more important than most people realize. Many of us have done things in our youth that we would NEVER do in our maturity. It is important to be able to eventually move beyond the worst things we have ever done and work toward becoming the sons, brothers, community members that we are capable of being. … This cannot happen if a person is thrown away like toxic waste… It is vital to be able to redeem oneself.

Jeremy Box

16. I have seen so many people who I know wouldn’t be much of a threat to society due to their ages alone, who will die in prison. Old men, who can barely stand up, let alone commit a violent crime of any significance. I’m not sure what the purpose or justification for this is, but it seems to me that once somebody can show that they are rehabilitated or no longer a threat to society, it’s difficult to justify not considering them for release.

Michael Moore

17. I have been in prison for 15 years and acquired quite a few tools. Taking these skills to the streets would allow me to help mentor young men on a path of destruction and harm. This allows me a real chance to pay a debt to society. It would also allow me a chance to support my family.  Everyone should receive a second chance if they put in the work. … Let’s change lives, let’s heal our communities.

Chris Blackwell

18. [3-5 years left on 14-year sentence] I am in total support for this draft bill as it would give more people a chance to be a positive citizen in the community, as so many men and women have changed for the better through self-help programs. I just ask that the STG (security threat group) part get taken out of the bill as DOC’s current STG program is based on a lot of false information and there is no way to challenge that STG identity placed on prisoners.

Julian Tarver

19. I have been incarcerated since 1980, which is four years prior to the implementation of our current system. In my observation, the current system is toxic. It robs potentially outstanding citizens of any hope and relegates them to a human warehouse for long periods of time. It also releases people who have done nothing to address their rehabilitation…. Most of us committed our crimes between ages 17 and 25. At forty or fifty we are completely different people.

I believe this bill is important because everyone deserves a second chance in life. Although I am doing multiple life without parole sentences, …. I believe that other men deserve a second chance. I had my chance and I threw it away. I now facilitate programs to help others not make the same mistakes I have.

Timothy Pauley

20. I’ve been in prison in WA State since the mid 80’s with virtually no hope for release; I changed my whole life anyway. Which has had the dual effect of making me happier about myself and my relationships with others, while dramatically increasing the pain felt by imprisonment and the loss of family and home. A bill that allows a review so that same objective measure of who I have come, and whether I should have a chance at being part of society, part of the world, a chance to rebuild relationships, and atone for what I’ve done and who I’ve hurt by my actions, means everything to me.

David John Lennon

21. Tomorrow, I begin serving my 24th year of incarceration. I was convicted of assault and burglary for a crime I committed 3 months after my 28th birthday. I was sentenced to serve 35½ years. I am sorry. And I am ready. I graduated with an AA degree last year. I finished school with a 3.89 GPA. I worked hard for that. And I’ll work hard upon release.

With this one stroke of the legislative pen, [post conviction review] would radically change the prison experience and paradigm.  Recidivism will decrease and productivity will rise.

Isaac Sweet

22. [Sentenced to 246 months at 18] Being given more time than you’ve lived is a shock to your system. It was to mine. Truly I felt my life was over…. I had to hope, I had no goals, I was following the footsteps of my parents who were both incarcerated in a Texas DOC facility. … My breaking point, my “click” moment was about 5 years into my sentence, when it hit me: “Man, you’re a father. Is this good enough for your son?” …  I decided to be a better man for my son regardless if I was rewarded or not.  My son was 3 months old when I came in, he’s now 12. I’ve not seen him. However I still live for him.

Brandon Pedro

23. The proposed legislation to me personally represents life and the opportunity to repay just a little of the care and consideration my mother and father have given to me in the 30 years that I have been incarcerated.  I realize that it was my actions that placed me here, but life without hope is cruel, and while I owe a debt, I hope that I can attempt to repay it more productively than solely by remaining here.

Steve Spurgeon

24. Although I am doing multiple life without parole sentences, … I still believe other men deserve a second chance. I had my chance and I threw it away. I now facilitate a program to help others not to make the same mistakes I did.

Daniel Tavares

Questions:  Contact Carol Estes, Prison Voice Washington, carol@prisonvoicewa.org