All pre-SRA prisoners must jump through an invisible hoop before they can be paroled. Sound like something out of Alice in Wonderland? Well, it's the law.
RCW 9.95.100 ("point 100") is a 1939 statute that has remained unchanged since 1955. Kit Bail is quoted in a recent Shelton-Mason County Journal article as saying, "It's the statute that says `you may not release - not you shouldn't, but may not release - somebody short of their maximum term unless you can make a finding that they're reasonably rehabilitated and safe to be at large'." She goes on to point out the statute as being, "pretty much the crux of the issue when you're talking about [the] nearly 2,500 pre-SRA inmates still in the system."
Why this outmoded statute remains on the books is a mystery. It imposes a duty on the Board to determine the "rehabilitation" and likelihood to re-offend of prisoners eligible for parole. This is plainly asking the under qualified to do the utterly impossible.
The statute also imposes a liability on the state and the Board if they should somehow fail to do the impossible. If an "un-rehabilitated" prisoner is released who then commits further crimes, the Board can be held responsible in subsequent civil actions. The state can't be held liable for the actions of SRA prisoners who are released - they're in prison for punishment. Nobody determines if or when they've been rehabilitated.
The legislature is responsible for this monstrosity remaining on the books. As such, they are sending conflicting directives to the Board. On the one hand they require the Board to "make decisions reasonably consistent with the "purposes" of the SRA (a strictly punishment based system), and on the other hand the Board is directed to apply the "rehabilitation" standard to prisoners eligible for parole.
Nowhere does the law define rehabilitation, nor can it be scientifically measured. Keeping pre-SRA inmates imprisoned because they can't demonstrate their rehabilitation is not only cruel, it's lunacy! And requiring the Board to make a determination of an inmate's likelihood to re-offend is equally ludicrous.
Clearly, as Kit Bail points out, the "crux" of the issue is the statute itself. RCW 9.95.100 needs to be repealed or at least substantially modified by the legislature. Pre-SRA prisoners who are eligible for parole should be treated in a manner reasonably consistent with the SRA's purposes and practices, as is required by RCW 9.95.009(2).
The next move is up to us (the imprisoned and their loved ones on the outside). The legislature will not act unless it is spurred by the public. While there is much to do, including the building of an outside support network, there are some basic steps that can be taken now. Send a letter or copies of this article to your state representative, or to one of the senators listed below:
Washington State Senate
Committee on Law & Justice
435 John A. Cherberg Bldg.
Olympia, WA 98504
Committee Chair: Leo Thorsness
Attn: (See names below)
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