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A History of Rehabilitation Under Washington State Law

A History Of Rehabilitation Under Washington State Law

By Matt James

[Editor's Note: The revised Code of Washington provides that the parole Board "shall not...release a prisoner, unless in its opinion his rehabilitation has been complete and he is a fit subject for release." (RCW 9.95.100) the board has never defined the meaning of the word rehabilitation. Old guideline prisoners, the only ones who must be rehabilitated, are treated no differently that SRA offenders, who are merely being punished. What follows is a recent history of the law of rehabilitation as it has unfolded in Washington State].

Persons who committed drug-related offenses prior to July 1, 1975, had a statutory right, created through RCW 69.32.090, to be rehabilitated by way of treatment programs within the prison. That statute was then repealed during the 1975 legislative session. See, State v. Barnett, 17 Wn.App. 53, 55 (1977).

In 1977, the state Supreme Court held, in the case of Bresolin v. Morris, 88 Wn.2nd 167, that rehabilitation of convicted persons is a legitimate governmental interest and institutional goal, but it is not an enforceable right of institutionalized prisoners. The court reasoned that "[t]he legislature in this state has also adopted rehabilitation as a penal goal" through RCW 72.08.101. However, the court went on to say, "the entire concept of rehabilitation as a practical goal of confinement is under question." Id. At 173.

The statute (RCW 72.08.101) that gave the state a penal goal of rehabilitation was amended in 1979. In 1981, the same year the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) was adopted, RCW 72.08.101 was again amended to point to the intent of the "Corrections Reform Act of 1981." The intent of the 1981 act did not mention rehabilitation but stressed that "the system should punish the offender for violating the laws." See RCW 72.09.010(2). Title 72.08 of the RCWs was later repealed.

In 193 the state Supreme Court addressed the relevancy of rehabilitation as a state interest in denying credit for jail time. See State v. Phelan, 100 Wn.2d 508. The court said: "While the need for rehabilitation is concededly one factor, and may once have been the sole factor, which the board...considers in setting minimum terms..., this is no longer the case. The Board is as much concerned with just punishment, deterrence, and incapacitation as with rehabilitation." Id. At 514.

Up until this point the board was never required to set a minimum term reasonably consistent with the SRA. When the SRA became effective in 1984, the Board was required to make decisions reasonably consistent with those ranges and standards. See RCW 9.95.009(2). See also In re Myers, 105 Wn.2d 257 (1986). As a result of the Myers decision the legislature amended RCW 9.95.009(2) to clarify its intent. Notably different from the "ranges and standards" previously considered, was the requirement that the Board, when setting minimum terms and parole release decisions, consider the purposes of the SRA.

The Board has finally started to consider the sentence ranges of the SRA and has grudgingly provided some written reasons for not setting a term of confinement within those ranges. What the board is not doing, however, is considering the "just punishment" format which was the purpose and very heart of the SRA. See In re Mota, 114 Wn.2d 465 (1990).

In 1977 rehabilitation was a questioned goal, by 1986 the Board was only required to balance rehabilitation interests with just punishment. The question is whether rehabilitation is still a justifiable state interest for denying parole after 1986? Also, is RCW 9.95.009(2) unconstitutional as applied because the DOC no longer provides rehabilitative programs to pre-SRA offenders, since all offenders are treated exactly the same.

While no one has tried to define rehabilitation to prisoners, the state legislature has declared it to be vocational and educational programs within the institution. See RCW 72.62.010.

For those who have been denied parole because of infractions, a person could make an argument that due process was denied by the Board extending his or her minimum under RCW 9.95.100, when proper notification to prepare a defense would be under 9.95.080. It would also appear that the Board is violating everyone's due process rights by holding parole release hearings under 9.95.100. The proper statute for release decisions is 9.95.110, except for people who had their original minimum term set at the maximum term.

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