Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Prison/Community Alliance Update

By Carrie Roth

June 10, 1991 the Legislature went back into session and by the time this is read the session should be over. This is a time when there is a lot of speculation and rumors going around. One rumor is that Senator Gary Locke is against the continuation of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB) and that he is actively trying to stop their funding. Senator Locke is a former Deputy Prosecutor and wrote the state budget (HB 1300) which allocates the ISRB over $3 million dollars. This is no different from previous years. As Sen. Locke expressed to me, "the elimination of the ISRB would be unfair to prosecutors who did not press all the charges they could have at the time because they knew that under the parole board the offenders could be made to do the time anyway." He said a lot of charges were never pressed that would be pressed in today's courts under the SRA. He seemed to have the impression there is no plea bargaining under the SRA.

On another note, I have been following the civil commitment hearing of Vance Cunningham closely. Actually closer than I wanted to as I was summoned to jury duty and had to go through jury selection for his trial. Now all of us know it was a hearing, but unfortunately the jury thought of it as a trial and of course due to emotionalism of the jury, Cunningham was tried a second time for his crimes and committed. I honestly do not feel any person who goes through the commitment proceedings has a chance of not being committed. The juries will feel the state has a reason to commit a person so therefore he shall be committed. The jury however confessed they ignored expert testimony and made their decision based on the fact that he had committed prior offenses. They also based their decision on the fact that Cunningham had not had prior treatment. Of course, none was offered to him the times he had asked for it.

I think we all need to recognize the civil commitment law for what it is. It is the state's way of covering their negligence in not treating sex offenders in the first place. It was not until last year that the law was changed to allow offenders who committed prior to July 1st, 1987 to go to the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) and it is still only if there is space and money available. The problem is these guys offended while DSHS was still involved in treatment and when the treatment changed over to the DOC the DOC didn't feel they were responsible for the pre-July 1, 1987 offenders.

The law states offenders who are maxing out can be referred for civil commitment. But that is not what is happening. Some of the seven at the Special Commitment Center were about to be released with good time. It is insane. Cunningham was actually out for 41/2 months and was not even suspected of committing a new crime when they picked him up. And then they put him in a prison where there are no staff qualified to treat a sex offender. It is obviously a game by the state. It will keep the heat off the DOC if DSHS does let someone out who commits a crime. What state psychologist is going to sign papers and testify in court that someone is safe to be out if they are going to be drug through the mud if someone does reoffend?

Judge McCullough at Cunningham's trial asked me why I thought you could not predict future dangerousness. I thought of the answer after I left the courtroom. If the prediction of future dangerousness was so simple, the ISRB wouldn't be so inaccurate...or would they? Speaking of prediction of future dangerousness, one of the writers of the law, David Boerner, wrote in his book Sentencing in Washington that prediction of future dangerousness was wrong up to 90% of the time. This was written back in 1985...before, of course, he tried to become a Federal district court judge.

Lastly, we are still planning the initiative in 1992 to bring it before the people to vote whether or not they want to continue to support two distinctly separate sets of sentencing in this state. We aren't rushing it because we have time to feel our way through this. However, if we are to succeed, we are going to need a lot of outside people to gather signatures. Also, everyone needs to register to vote. There are so many of us out here spread across the state, we could have an impact of government issues pertaining to the prisons if enough people would get involved. In the past, everyone just sat around waiting for someone else to make changes and consequently very little was achieved because enough people would not get involved. The prison officials are counting on this to continue, and if it does, this initiative won't even make it to the ballots, let alone pass. Another way to show support for offenders in our states prison system is to attend both the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and ISRB meetings. Also, don't forget the toll-free number to Olympia (1-800-321-2808) if you want to talk to the DOC or the ISRB or other agencies in Olympia. There are a lot of free publications and reports available, but they don' t advertise them and you'll have to request them. Get involved or stop complaining.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login