Criminal Justice

Convener, Criminal Justice Working Group:
Sam Merrill email: SamM…@comcast.net

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2017 Focus Issues:

Quaker Voice on Washington Public Policy

Criminal Justice Working Group

Priority issues for the 2017 legislative session:

  1. Reform Legal Financial Obligations:
  • Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) amount to criminal justice debts owed by released prisoners.  Specifically, LFOs are debts required of ex-prisoners for restitution, court costs, fines, drug treatment, etc.  These debts accrue 12% interest starting at the beginning of incarceration and continuing until they are paid.
  • Most released prisoners, particularly those with a background of low income including many people of color, have a difficult time getting housing or a job. As a consequence, they find it almost impossible to pay off these debts, a situation that compromises their ability to reconstruct their lives.
  • We expect a bill similar to last year’s that would (1) except for restitution, eliminate the interest, (2) in assigning costs, seriously take into account ability to pay, and (3) place restitution at the front of the line to receive the payments that are made.
  1. Establish a Corrections Ombuds Office, Independent of the Dept. of Corrections.
  • Ombuds persons would be able to visit prisons, observe conditions, and help resolve concerns and disputes between prisoners, their families, and prison staff and administration, without resort to costly litigation (which now averages about $11 million a year).
  • Quaker Voice has been working on ombuds legislation since 2007; a bill is expected to be developed starting with that introduced last year.

Additional Issues to Monitor:

  1. Solitary confinement (administrative housing).  
    The Dept. of Corrections (DOC) is working administratively on addressing solitary confinement and its potential abuses.  Quaker Voice will monitor.
  2. Post-secondary education in prison.  
    Studies by both RAND and WA State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) show that education in prisons pays for itself many times over in reduced recidivism and hence public safely.  Quaker Voice will monitor prospects in the legislature.
  3. Community Review Board (parole for long-term prisoners).
    Quaker Voice will monitor efforts led by allies.
  4. Implementation of voting rights for those serving time for misdemeanors.
    Persons convicted of misdemeanors do not lose their right to vote, but procedures need to be put in place so that it is practical for them to vote.  Here we refer to people who are confined due to misdemeanors and by extension all people who are confined to institutions, whether jails, hospitals, nursing homes or other facilities.  Quaker Voice will investigate this issue.
  5. Voting Rights for persons in prison convicted of a felony.
    Persons convicted of a felony can vote while in prison only in Maine and Vermont.  Quaker Voice will investigate.
  6. Death Penalty.
    Quaker Voice will monitor efforts led by WA Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty/Safe and Just Alternatives.

Longer Term Goals (How we measure the impact of our activity):

  • Give priority to efforts to repair the harm suffered by victims over attempts to punish offenders
  • Look for opportunities to take preventive action to identify and address the causes of crime
  • Replace costly incarceration through diversion, drug treatment, job training, and education whenever appropriate
  • Redress the racial inequity of our current criminal justice system
  • Support offenders’ efforts to redeem themselves and reintegrate into society

Publications

The Criminal Justice Working Group Practices