By Beryl P. Sanders Director
This article is in response to the March 1992 Prisoners' Legal News article, "The continuing Racism Against Black Pre-SRA Offenders," By Leland Jordan. As prisoners advocates and leaders of the African-American community, we have well distributed Mr. Jordan's article and letter that was received. We all need to continue the support his request and plea for all prisoners to be put under the new sentencing standards - the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) which is determinate sentencing and maintains equality for all. The men/women still under the 'old guidelines' sentencing structure are under the jurisdiction of Ms. Kit Bail, Chair of the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board (ISRB). Consequently there are two sentencing structures in progress or what we are protesting "the dual-sentencing" in Washington state. Mr. Jordan speaks for the entire Afro-American inmate population throughout the state and he is valid in what he has written. According to several studies, the facts of "racial and ethnic disparities in Washington imprisonment" have and still exist to date. The prisons are filled to capacity and the situation continues to escalate, consequently Governor Booth Gardner requested the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to consider "alternatives to sentencing" especially for first-time, non-violent offenders, hoping to take the crunch off of the states' ever-rising prison costs. At the same time, Rep. Gary Locke, Appropriations Chair is pro-ISRB and saying "Lock 'em up and I'll support and fund all operations of the ISRB, and the Dept. of Corrections." Let's look into the real problem that so far has a 'Band-Aid' on it that's not covering the real sore. There are approximately 3,000 inmates under the ISRB or `old guidelines standards,' including a backlog of Afro-Americans with 'labels' attached to them of being 'seriously violent,' which, of course, is intended to impede their progress as far as 'parolability' is concerned. The Institute for Public Policy and Management (IPPM) at the University of Washington initiated a study concerning the disproportionate incarceration rate of men and women of racial and ethnic cultures in Wa. state prisons and local jails. Major findings of the study are: (1) Wa. state imprisons a greater share of its minority population than the national average. (2) Blacks are nine times more likely to be imprisoned for crimes than whites. (3) The arrest rate of minority offenders accounts for more than one half of the disproportionate incarceration of minorities in Washington there are several more facts, but too lengthy to submit at this time. The Washington Institute for Public Policy at Evergreen State College worked in conjunction with the University of Washington on these fact-findings. The second study report by the Washington Council and Crime and Delinquency concurred or rather had the same documentation as the others and also stated that Washington state has the nation's highest incarceration rate of Blacks (Dunbaugh, 1980), (Christianson, 1981).
Solution: In spite of alternatives td sentencing for first time offenders the 'old guidelines' prisoners need to be put under the SRA, especially the African-American population, and given the fairness of determinate releases. Just to slow down incarceration for new offenders will surely help with the problem, but the real backlog are those still under the jurisdiction of the Board.
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