On September 6, 1988, Diane Ballisiotes was killed by Eugene Kane, a prisoner on work release in Seattle, Washington. Kane had been serving time for two assaults on women and was paroled despite DOC psychologists stating he was at high risk to re-offend. When Diane died a career was born. Her estranged mother Ida was on her way to becoming a professional victim and prisoner basher.
Ida rapidly grabbed the spotlight by founding "Friends of Diane" which initially sought to limit the number of work release fatalities in the downtown Seattle area. Ida filed suit against the state for $3 million over Dianes death, claiming that the state was negligent for not supervising Kane. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount and Ida has been cashing in ever since, embracing on a full time career bashing prisoners.
Ida was active as one of the front people for Washington Citizens for Justice, the right wing group that includes John Carlson and David LaCourse that sponsored the "3 Strikes Youre Out" initiative. In 1992 she ran for office and was elected to the state legislature as a Republican, representing Mercer Island. She is a primary backer of Initiative 159, dubbed "Hard Time for Armed Crime," which would significantly expand the state death penalty, among other things. [See PLN, Vol. 5, No. 8]
When the GOP seized control of the state house of representatives in November, 1994, she was appointed to head the "Corrections Committee." Her first two years in the legislature were lackluster ones she spent on the House Appropriations, Health Care and Judiciary committees. What are her qualifications to serve on, much less head, the corrections committee? Only a desire to bash prisoners and make already miserable lives even worse. Rather than holding responsible a system that takes petty criminals and turns them into killers and that she sued over for negligence, she has focused her hatred on all prisoners with an approach of vindictiveness and mean spiritedness. This is typified by calling on the DOC to stop providing prisoners with matches in the name of "saving money." In an agency with a budget that is close to half a billion dollars a year how much do matches cost? With a massively growing prison population, her "solution" is harsher laws that lock more people up for longer periods of time and turn prisons into bigger hate factories than they already are. This approach has been tried and failed for the past 20 years in this country and Washington.
But public policy and the public interest is not the driving force for Ida and the rest of the opportunistic politicians who ride to office bashing prisoners. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, communism is not a credible threat anymore. It is no longer fashionable to openly bash racial or sexual minorities which leaves prisoners. Prisoners today are to Ida and her ilk what Jews and communists were to the Nazis in 1930s Germany: the scapegoat for all the real or imagined ills afflicting society. Unable to vote and generally poor, prisoners and those who come to prison have no voice that anyone with power must listen to. It is politically safe to bash prisoners because there are no moneyed interests supporting them. Given Idas obvious bias and personal agenda and lack of qualifications why is she heading the corrections committee? Would an environmentalist be appointed to head a committee on the environment? When was the last time a union representative headed a labor committee? Should public policy be decided by rational legislators or vicious hacks? It is the political equivalent of making Heinrich Himmler the ambassador to Israel.
A group of prisoners at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe had invited Ida and the corrections committee to come to WSR to listen to their concerns and they agreed to come on January 2, 1995. On December 31, 1994, they canceled their visit. After all, nothing mere prisoners have to say will affect anything they do in search of the next sound bite or election ad. But many Washington state prisoners havent gotten this point yet. In 1989 when Ida was just getting started cashing in on her daughters death, prisoners at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe overwhelmingly voted to give Idas first prisoner bashing group $10,000 from the prisons Inmate Welfare Fund. At the time I argued against it and on two occasions the matter came to a vote, I was the sole prisoner opposed to it. On that occasion, at least, Friends of Diane showed themselves to be less opportunistic than most prisoners in that they declined to accept the money from our welfare fund.
But the mentality of many prisoners remains the same. A large member of WSR prisoners said that they thought Ida could be "won over to our side" if they could just tell them about the prisons programs, how badly the parole board has treated them, etc. It is readily apparent that is wishful thinking, at best. By canceling the invitation at the last minute Ida showed her contempt for those who invited her to the prison, after all, she could care less what any mere prisoner thinks or has to say. Just like the slave farmers of old did not consult with the field slaves about the decisions they were making, Ida isnt either. Ida has done well and gone far simply by bashing prisoners and milking her daughters death for all it is worth, why should she stop now? Ida has become rich and gotten a lucrative political career out of viciously bashing prisoners, now she is setting state policy on these issues. Her "solutions" to crime and recidivism are to take away weights, family visits and make prisoners buy matches, Im sure everyone will feel safer. Dont the people of Washington deserve better in terms of who sets their public policy on criminal justice issues? I know the prisoners do.
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