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.

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.