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

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

Next hearing on Feb 28 for 5819

Here is some Information on process that may be helpful:

A HEARING on the substitute 5819 will take place in the Senate Ways & Means Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday in hearing room 4, Cherberg Blg. Public testimony is allowed, but this committee deals only with budget and cost issues, so any testimony must be about that. You should be able to watch it live on TVW ( or later in the TVW archives–though lots of people seem to have trouble with their internet service. 

THEN WHAT?  After the Thursday hearing, the bill will be scheduled for executive session (a committee vote). If it passes out of that committee by the deadline of March 1, it will go to Rules, and from there, if we’re lucky, to the Floor for a vote by March 13.

IF THE BILL GETS TO THE SENATE FLOOR, we must get a majority of Senators to vote in favor of the bill or it dies. The deadline is March 13. The run-up to this vote (the first week or so of March) is the time when we really need everyone’s help educating legislators. Many are completely uninformed about this issue. We’ll be back in touch about how to do this.

Then, if the bill passes out of the Senate, it goes to the House, most likely to the Public Safety Committee, and starts again through the whole process of hearings and committee votes. It can be amended at several points along the way, so we will be keeping a close eye on what is happening. It could get through both Houses this year. OR, if it gets held up in a committee for some reason, it will remain alive for next year, and it will stay at the same spot in the process so that we don’t have to start over.

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington

Butchered bill passes out of committee

The Law & Justice Committee passed a MISERABLE substitute bill. It allows review only for people over 60, completely eliminates review for agg murder because they’re doing away with the death penalty, and adds even more language about victims. Pedersen made it absolutely clear that they have no intention of even considering agg murder. 

What now? We will have some chances to ask for amendments along with way as the bill goes forward–if it does–but once again, they basically chickened out, catering to prosecutors and other “stakeholders.” The House is notoriously timid about positive criminal justice reform, so our odds of fixing this bill there are not good. I am furious. 

Here is their own statement of what their new bill does. The new bill itself is long and will be up on our website ASAP.

Effect Statement 

PSSB 5819 Dhingra Ivory 

·Modifies the eligibility criteria to petition for post conviction review (Section 2):
o Person must not currently be under jurisdiction of the Board by another statute;

o If person is serving a sentence for Murder 1, person must have served 20 consecutive years for the current charge prior to petitioning

o Person may petition for review if over the age of 60 and has served at least one-half of sentence

o Person may not have any appeals pending

·Language is added to reinforce involvement of victim in consideration for release (Section 3): 

o If victim chooses to participate, Board must consider victim input regarding protective measures for supervision and supports victim may need if person released;

o Board encouraged to develop standard written victim impact questionnaire for submittal to the Board in addition to the standard victim impact statement; 

o Prosecutors office must certify they have exhausted all reasonable efforts to locate and contact victim;

o Department must ensure defendant is not released to where victim resides;

o If offender commits new law violation while on supervision, Board must return offender to institution for remainder of sentence. Offender may not file new petition for release. (Section 3) 

o Clarifies in RCW 9.94A.570 that person sentenced to LWOP for aggravated murder is not eligible for release. (Section 7) 

o Adjusts membership and minimum qualifications of Board. Board ember to include a victim’s advocate. (Section 14)

o Allows JUVBRD offender (person committed prior to his or her 18th birthday) to petition for review after serving no less than fifteen years of total confinement rather than twenty. (Section 35) 

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington

Our compromise proposal

Here’s what we’re proposing, an idea that came from Rachael Seevers, the attorney at Disability Rights Washington who is leading our coalition. Rachael has already sent this proposal to Pedersen, Dhingra, and committee staff. We suggest that new Sec. 2(3) be amended to include “(d) was not convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death prior to October 11, 2019 or, if convicted of aggravated murder after that date, has received a majority vote by the review board to permit the filing of a petition for review under this act.”This change would 1) protect the possibility of review for everyone currently in prison for agg murder; 2) bar the people currently sentenced to death from review as the legislature intends; 3) allow the post-conviction review board to decide which new agg murder cases will be  barred from review–a substitute for the death penalty. 
I think this is a brilliant solution to this problem. I hope the legislators agree!

Carol Estes
Prison Voice Washington