By Ed Mead
Back in the February issue we told readers that the Prison/Community Alliance (P/CA) and the PLN editors were in the process of drafting sample legislation that would abolish the Board and turn its functions over to the courts. We mentioned our hope to launch a citizens' initiative campaign to get the proposed law on the statewide ballot in 1992. We have since written that proposed law, and we have also made progress toward getting it on the ballot. The draft law, is the form issued by the Code Revisors' Office, say:
"An ACT relating to the indeterminate sentence review board; and adding a new section to Chapter 9.95 RCW.
"BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
"NEW SECTION Sec. 1. A new section is added to Chapter 9.95 RCW to read as follows:
"(1) The indeterminate sentence review board shall set minimum term release dates for all inmates serving indeterminate sentences, except those who have legislatively mandated minimum terms. Minimum terms set by the indeterminate sentence review board and those imposed by statute shall stand as determinate sentences. Once the term is set, the indeterminate sentence review board shall have no further authority over the inmates and the inmates shall be treated in the same manner and under the same criteria as inmates serving determinate sentences under Chapter 9.9A RCW.
(2) The governor shall appoint a review board to review all cases of exceptional sentences above or below the applicable Chapter 9.94A RCW range. The review board shall consist of three superior court judges who shall each be responsible for a geographical area. Each judge shall be empowered to hold sentence reviews for those inmates within his or her geographical area. The review board shall review cases on an individual basis and shall review all exceptional sentences. All rights and protections afforded offenders under Chapter 9.94A RCW at sentencing apply to hearings under this subsection."
Once the Code Revisors' Office and Washington's Secretary of State had finished with our draft bill, it next went to the Attorney General, who then gave our little initiative a twenty-word ballot caption and a 75-word summary statement of our proposed bill. This is the ballot title and summary as they would appear on the ballot (in the event we obtained the necessary number of signatures).
"Shall inmates with indeterminative sentences change to determinative sentences, and sentences which are outside the standing sentencing range be reviewed?"
"Inmates convicted of crimes occurring prior to July 1, 1984 serve indeterminate sentences not exceeding a maximum term. Releases before completion of the maximum term are subjected to parole.
"This initiative requires the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board to set, for those inmates, minimum terms which would be treated as determinative sentences. Release after the term would be without parole.
"The Governor is to appoint three superior court judges to review all sentences outside the standard sentencing range.
The earliest we can file our initiative to the people is January 3, 1992. We would then have to get the necessary number of petitions completed (signed) and back to the Secretary of State's office by August 1, 1992, in order to be on the November 1992 ballot. Between now and December 31st will be the time to object to any of the language in our initiative to abolish the board. After that date we will be calling on people to get blank petitions from us and to help obtain the signatures of registered voters.
As most regular readers know, the courts impose exceptional sentences, terms outside the applicable guideline range, in only 3.7 percent of the cases, and over half of those exceptional terms (56%) were below the standard SRA range. Whereas 53 percent of pre-SRA offenders having their terms adjusted by the ISRB received terms outside the guideline range, and all of those exceptional terms were set above the applicable range. According to a report issued by the Legislative Budget Committee late last year, there would be a considerable savings to taxpayers if the board were to be completely abolished. "If the ISRB ... were to be eliminated entirely," the report said, "the state would save approximately $3 million in the first year." The report then goes on to say that the above figure "does not include the savings that would accrue from releasing from prison those people who have served terms beyond the [SRA] presumptive range. If this number is 500 prisoners, the savings could be as high as $11 per year.
1992 may prove to be a busy year for old guidelines prisoners and their loved ones on the outside. Just how "busy" will be the yardstick by which our level of success (or lack of it) will be measured. It is nearing that point where we stop whining about the board, and instead start doing something about sending it into the dustbin of history.
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