Sentence Review for Emerging Adults
What will our bill do? It will simply raise the age limit for juvenile sentence review from age 18 to age 25, based on a large body of research demonstrating that a person’s brain does not mature fully until age 25.
Why is this bill important? Our state closed the pressure release valve in our prison system in 1984, when we eliminated parole for the vast majority of prisoners in the name of “truth in sentencing.” Over the 35 years that followed, we created the nation’s harshest 3-Strikes Law, Life Without Parole sentences, mandatory sentences, and sentence enhancements.
What is Miller v. Alabama? In the 2012 decision Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles are unconstitutional. This decision meant that Washington State had to revamp its sentencing system for juveniles. In 2014 the legislature passed a law that became known as “the Miller Fix.” It entitles young people convicted before age 18 to sentence review after 20 years in prison, and it presumes that they will be released unless the state can show that they present a threat to society. Our bill would expand the pool of prisoners eligible for this review and bring our laws inline with the brain maturity research behind the Miller decision.
What does ‘lack of brain maturity’ really mean? Lack of brain maturity is reflected in a whole constellation of factors. Very simply, young people up to age 25 have an incompletely developed prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes rational decisions, controls emotional responses, and makes judgments. As a result, they rely more on the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and impulses. To complicate things further, the prefrontal cortex and amygdala are also ineffectively linked in immature brains. The result of these and other developments is psychologically rewarding but risky and dangerous behaviors, such as drugs and alcohol, and extreme sensitivity to peer pressure. But while young adults have diminished culpability, they also have greater capacity for change.
How does trauma affect brain maturity? Trauma can bring the process of brain maturity to a halt, which means that the brains of many foster kids and others with a traumatic past mature even more slowly than the norm. They are our most vulnerable kids, disproportionately poor, abused, and nonwhite, yet we treat them more harshly than any other demographic group. They often end up in prison at a much higher rate–up to 79% higher, according to one study.
Why is this bill particularly important for young people raised in foster care? For decades, we simply turned foster kids out onto the street, homeless and penniless, when they reached the age of 18–and sometimes earlier. So a high percentage of them, already traumatized and vulnerable, went to prison shortly after release from foster care, to serve very long sentences with no hope of release.
Post-Conviction Review Board
Title: Relating to the establishing a post-conviction review board and review process for early release of qualifying offenders.
What the bill does:
- The currently existing indeterminate sentence review board (ISRB) within the department of corrections (DOC) is renamed the post-conviction review board (the Board). The Board is moved to the office of the Governor and exercises its powers and duties independently of the department of corrections.
- The Board must evaluate outcomes of early release petitions brought under this act, develop recommendations for changes to the eligibility requirements, and recommendations on the composition or scope of review of the Board. The board shall submit a report to the appropriate committees of the legislature and the governor’s office by July 1, 2022.
- Minimum qualifications for the Board members include but are not limited to:
- Bachelor’s degree and five years’ experience in criminal justice or a social science field;
- Ten years’ experience in criminal justice or a social science field; or
- Demonstrated competence in principles of racial equity and restorative justice.
- The Board shall consist of one (1)
chair and seven (7) other members, each of whom shall be appointed by the Governor
with the consent of the Senate.
- The Governor shall consider racial inequities in our criminal justice system and ensure that members of the board are representative of communities most impacted by crime.
- Four (4) of the eight (8) members of
the Board shall be representative of the following:
- A judge chosen from a pool of six to eight (6 to 8) retired former superior court or appellate court judges/justices; a representative of a statewide or local organization representing communities of color or racial equity; a representative of an association, organization, or advocacy group with experience or interest in the formerly incarcerated and successful reentry; and a behavioral health professional.
- Applies retroactively to persons currently incarcerated, regardless of the date of the offense or conviction.
- Does not create a right or entitlement to be released from incarceration before the end of the term of incarceration imposed by the court, but instead creates a right to petition, and if eligible, have hearing by the post-conviction review board hearing to determine the early release petition is granted or denied.
- Information on procedures, legal
representation for offenders, timeframes, assistance for individuals with
decreased cognitive functioning or development disability, eligibility reviews,
and appeals are included for the following:
- Notification of eligibility to petition for early release;
- Review and decision of the early release petition;
- Scheduling and deciding of a hearing on the early petition; and
- Notice to victims.
- A person may petition the Board for
early release, provided that he or she:
- Has served at least fifteen consecutive years of total confinement;
- Has not committed a disqualifying serious infraction as defined by the department in the twelve months prior to filing the petition for early release; and
- Consents to a review of all his or her medical, mental health, and department files by the board.
- Individuals determined to be indigent who are petitioning for release under this section have a right to appointed counsel.
- The hearing may be conducted telephonically and without the offender’s physical presence at the hearing. When possible, video conferencing shall be used. Hearings by the Board are subject to the open public meetings act under 42.30 RCW.
Staff: Keri Waterland (786-7490)