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
206-276-9128 

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
206-276-9128

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

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