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WA Prisoners Under Attack

By Paul Wright

Someone once said that no citizen's life, limb or property was safe while the legislature was in session. Substitute "Prisoner" for "citizen" and you have an idea of what things are like in Washington. Fortunately, the Washington state legislature is only in session for periods of 60 to 105 days a year. The 1995 legislative session began on January 9 and ends on April 15, until then it's a countdown of prisoners being held hostage by the most vicious and reactionary elements in state politics. [Due to the shortness of the legislative session and PLN's press deadlines we can't  provide up to the minute coverage of legislation. Once the session is over we will report on what was actually passed into law. If immediate action is required on a specific bill we will send our  Washington readers a special mailing to that effect.]

A whole slew of repressive anti-prisoner legislation was profiled before the legislature's session  even began. A lot of the bills were introduced by Spokane Republican Mike Padden. Padden  heads the Law and Justice committee in the state house. Judging him from his television  appearances he is about as bright as a 15 watt light bulb, but the anti-prisoner movement is not based on intellect or reason. Rather than focus on societal problems the fascist right wing is  targeting the weakest segments of society, single mothers, immigrants and prisoners, as  scapegoats for the failures of capitalism. It is also worth noting that people like Padden are right wing social activists who are not only out to bash prisoners but also oppose gay rights, women's  right to control their bodies (i.e. abortion), the separation of church and state, etc.  

Since 1981 Washington has had an Extended Family Visiting (EFV) program in which prisoners  can visit with immediate family members (spouses, parents, grandparents and children) in a private  setting. The visits take place on prison grounds and last between 21 and 46 hours, depending on  the prison. The visits are received between 30 and 90 days apart, again depending on the prison.  In order to be able to participate in the program prisoners must have no drug related infractions, no assaults on staff, hostage taking, rioting, etc. for specified periods of time.

Prison activists struggled for this program for many years in the 1970's as a means by which prisons could build and retain their family ties, especially with their spouses and children. The program was actually instituted as a result of recommendations by Anthony Travasino, then head of the American Corrections Association, who was investigating why Washington prisons had experienced over a decade of riot, struggle, murder, brutality and turmoil. Travasino recommended that the EFV program be instituted, essentially as a bribe, to reduce violence and unrest within the  prison system. This followed the same pattern behind which family visiting programs were instituted in other states (i.e. New York after Attica, California after the struggles of the 1960's, New Mexico after the Santa Fe riot, etc.) and underscores the fact that prison officials could care less about  prisoners' rehabilitation and family ties; all they want is smooth running prisons.  

Mr. Padden however could care less about smooth running prisons or prisoners' family ties. To that end he introduced House Bill (B) 1054 which would eliminate the EFV program, ban televisions and  so called "erotic" and "violent" literature. The purported intent of the bill is to target waste and  inefficiencies while maintaining clear and effective punishment and rehabilitation goals. The  legislature further finds that the programs, amenities, and activities available to inmates in our state correctional institutions should reflect the strong moral values and ideals that contribute to the  betterment of society and promote "good citizenship." Of course, it is quite ironic that Padden, who purports to support "family values" is doing all he can to destroy those families who have a member imprisoned.

As initially introduced by Padden the bill would completely and totally eliminate the EFV program, closed circuit televisions within the DOC and censor anything deemed "obscene" and "violent" by the legislature. The latter portion had obvious first amendment problems. The bill originally stated that all money "saved" would be placed into a fund for crime victims, prison industries expansion and similar prison expenses. The funds could not be placed into the general fund. This language was deleted when the bill cleared the committee, after it became clear there were no "savings" because no tax money was involved to begin with.  

On January 7, 1995, Todd Hiivala, a prisoner at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center stabbed his wife with a kitchen knife during an EFV on prison grounds. After his wife Heather ran screaming out of the trailer a guard ordered Hiivala to drop the knife and fired several warning shots. When he tried to stab her again the guard shot and wounded him in the shoulder. Both were taken to a hospital for treatment and Hiivala's arm was subsequently amputated. Hiivala's timing is extraordinary. This was the first incident of its type in the 14 year history of the Washington EFV program and it occurred two days before the Republican dominated legislature was due to start with legislation eliminating the program being high on the list.Within the week Governor Mike Lowry had ordered a suspension of the EFV program at CBCC pending an internal investigation of the incident and he ordered the DOC to conduct a statewide evaluation of the program.

The bill was premised and read on the legislature's opening day of January 9, 1995. Public hearings on HB 1054 were held on January 15, 1994, in the house corrections committee in Olympia. Padden was the first person to testify. He said it was time to make prisons places of punishment. Padden said he wouldn't object to modifying the bill to eliminate weights as well. During his speech he repeatedly said "If this bill generates any new revenue." When he was asked by committee members what the specific "savings" from the bill would be he was not sure about what or if any revenue would be saved. Meanness and vindictiveness are the driving force behind this type of law. Nothing is paid for by the state or taxpayers. All costs associated with the EFV and TVs are paid for with funds from the Inmate Welfare Fund. After testifying Padden left the hearing room, showing his contempt for what anyone else might have to say.  

The next people to testify were several DOC employees. Tom Rolfs, the director of prisons, testified that the EFV program and TVs were "tools" the DOC set in place 15 years ago which has brought a form of peace to the prison system. He noted that the state prison system is operating at 142% of its rated capacity. The EFV program offers a valuable incentive for prisoners to stay out of trouble and obey prison rules. Television offers prisoners distraction and entertainment, according to Rolfs. Tana Wood, warden of the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, testified that eliminating the EFV program would take the DOC backwards to the violence of 15 years ago. She stated that the cable TV system is used and required by the DOC for communicating with prisoners, making announcements, etc. Both were "vital tools" to be used in the smooth running of the prison system. She also said weights were a "tool" for reducing stress levels. On the issue of "punishing" prisoners, she asked the members of the corrections committee if they had an idea of what it was like to "have every ounce of privacy taken from you, right down to their natural body functions, not to mention the strips and pat downs they endure daily?" No committee member replied or commented.

Kurt Peterson, warden of the Washington Corrections Center at Shelton concurred with Rolfs' and Wood's testimony and went into more detail about DOC overcrowding. He responded to Padden's comments about the Clallam Bay incident by stating that there had been very few negative incidents related to the EFV program. He stated that some 300 EFVs have taken place each month for the past 14 years with only this one major incident, he said "your math is as good as mine, you figure that one." It is noteworthy that none expressed any concern about prisoners' family relationships or rehabilitation.  

A number of private citizens spoke against the bill. Cheyenne Lincoln Armstrong is a volunteer at WSR, she is also a surviving family member of a murder victim. She expressed her support for the various programs and concluded that "There is no hope in hatred and no peace in vengeance."  

Bill Haynes testified about his EFVs with his son and how he had taken his grandchildren to visit their father each year because they lived out of state. He testified "...and if you think that wasn't a very special time for me or them you're dead wrong, and let me assure you there was nothing conjugal about those visits." He also expressed his resentment to Padden's comparing incarceration with military leave. Stating he was retired military, with 25 years of active duty service, he noted he always had a choice in the military to come home to a conjugal visit. On the cable TV issue, Bill stated he is a degreed electronics person and that without cable there would be no TV reception in prisons.

Donna Parsons, a prisoner's wife, began by looking around the room and asking "Is representative Padden here? I have something to say to him." Followed by "I didn't think so." She testified that "Representative Padden says prisons are for punishment, but did anybody ever ask him who is being punished if extended family visits are stopped? I would be punished and my child would be punished if we couldn't be there as a support system for my husband." Julia Holder testified about the difficulty in maintaining a family when a spouse is imprisoned. Her daughter also testified about the importance of family visits with her father.  

A prosecutor who had formerly backed the ban on EFVs and TVs also testified, this time stating that he was withdrawing his previous support. Recognizing that the DOC should be free to manage its facilities as it sees fit and that after hearing from the DOC he thought the programs were beneficial to prisoners and the state.  

The only person who testified in favor of the bill was Lew Cox, a former volunteer Catholic minister at the Penitentiary. He claimed that EFVs don't help families. He said that many prisoners con women into marrying them and dump them after release.

The portion dealing with erotic and violent materials did not receive much attention at the hearing. In the event the bill is passed this provision can be challenged as being unconstitutional because it violates the first amendment.  

As a result of the above testimony the "corrections comrnittee" extensively rewrote the bill, and included a ban on weight lifting as well. The rewritten bill was introduced on February 17, 1995, and passed on to the House floor to be voted on. As we go to press the bill has not been voted on. The overall effect of the rewritten bill is keep the EFV program, weights, and TV's but in such a form that, in reality, the programs will be eliminated in everything but name. This is summarized by the bill's title "Reduction of Offender Privileges."  

With regards to the EFV program, the bill would codify current DOC policy which limits outside family members who can participate to immediate family. But, in a feature which will exclude a large percentage of married couples, only those couples who were legally married at the time of the prisoner's conviction can participate. The bill states that the DOC can implement a program "for the sole purpose of maintaining and promoting functional and cohesive family relationships," and then goes on to ensure that exactly the opposite occurs.  

The bill states that EFVs will occur no more than every sixty days and last no longer than 24 hours. It limits prisoner participation to only those who are employed in correctional industries or education program "no less than eight hours per day and no less than forty hours per week." The problem with this is that there are no eight hour a day jobs in the DOC nor enough jobs and education to go around even if prisoners did want them. "The department shall be required to provide work and education programs consistent with this act to the extent that no additional funds are appropriated." Only prisoners without any major infractions in the past year can participate. It also excludes prisoners in "maximum custody" and numerous sub categories from participating.  

Prisoners allowed to participate in this gutted remnant of an EFV program "shall be subject to no less than ten random urine analysis tests for drugs any time for a period of six months after the family visit. If an inmate tests positive for drugs he or she shall not be eligible for a family visit for the remainder of his or her sentence."  

The long-standing benefits of the EFV program for prisoners and their families are obvious. One study done in Texas, showed that prisoners who received visits were less likely to return to prison. It is obvious that the family remains prisoners' strongest source of support which is likely to prevent them from committing new crimes after release from prison. In most cases, family support is the only form of support or network prisoners have upon release. Washington state prisoners get $40 and a one way bus ticket to their place of arrest upon release. Prisoners and their supporters need to do everything possible to prevent passage of this law. It is obvious that Padden and the rest of the Republican right won't be content until the EFV program is totally eliminated. If they take a little bit now you can bet they will be back for the rest of it next year.

The bill would eliminate all closed circuit television (which due to the layout of Washington prisons would effectively prevent all television reception) in new or expanded prisons unless the DOC came up with a plan to show how the television systems would be used for training and vocational purposes. Prisoners would not be "eligible for individual television privileges unless he or she is working in a correctional industries job or successfully enrolled in a department education program."

The only weight lifting and weight training allowed in prison would be for prisoners "who volunteer to participate and are approved by the department to participate in official nationally sanctioned or official state sanctioned weight lifting team competitions. Each prison may establish no more than three inmate weight lifting teams. Each inmate weight lifting team is limited to no more than thirty five inmates." Again, only prisoners working in industries or education can take part. The bill states "the department shall only provide recreational options that minimize the inmates' ability to substantially increase muscle mass. Dietary supplements made for the sole purpose of increasing muscle mass shall be only available for purchase to members of the inmate weight lifting teams." The politics behind banning weights in prison is explored in my companion article in this issue of PLN.  

The bill would ban any type of written, pictorial or television material deemed to be "obscene," "sexually explicit," "violent," etc. In other words, the stuff that Republicans have been trying to censor everyone else from seeing for years. The difference is they think they can get away with it on prisoners.

The biggest and sickest joke of all with HB 1054 is that it is labeled "Emergency" legislation! "This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and shall take effect immediately." I have been reading Washington state legislation for about the past eight years and this is the first time I have ever seen "emergency" legislation. The only "emergency" is that Mike Padden and Ida Ballasiottes can't sleep at night thinking somewhere in Washington a prisoner is not miserable enough and that the DOC isn't doing enough to destroy prisoners' family relationships, health and other well being.  

The following bad news for prisoners bills have been introduced: SB 5024 and HB 1109 were introduced at the DOC's request. If passed it would allow the DOC to charge prisoners for health care. The fee would not be assessed for emergency treatment, visits initiated by staff or for treatment of serious medical conditions. This type of law has been passed in several states and is being litigated there, as reported in PLN. In the event this law is passed we will likely reprint a legal article on litigation strategy to challenge this law.

SB 5030 amends RCW 9.94A.200 to allow the DOC to impose and modify sanctions for prisoners who violate the terms of supervised release. Until now such changes had to made in court by the sentencing judge.  

B 1117 would expand the definitions of prison rioting, hostage taking, weapons and drug possession in RCW 9.94.010 so that it would apply to detainees and prisoners in county jails and prisoners in transit between prison facilities.

HB 1288 would modify RCW 4.24.130 to prohibit prisoners from legally changing their name while in DOC custody. "Any person committed to a department of corrections facility shall not be granted the order to legally change his or her name under the terms and conditions specified in this section if doing so will interfere with legitimate penological goals. Name changes required for religious reasons or in recognition of marriage shall be allowed, however the Department of Corrections shall require the inmate to also use his or her committed name while incarcerated in a department of corrections facility."  

HB 1136 states in relevant part "The department of corrections shall deposit no less than twenty-five percent of the total funds collected for inmate welfare accounts maintained by the department as authorized under this section into the public safety and education account for the crime victims' compensation program as outlined in chapter 7.68 RCW." If this is passed Washington state prisoners should have standing to challenge this on the grounds that it violates due process (as a "taking") and as the intended third party beneficiaries of such funds.

HB 1049 would allow people to be convicted of "conspiracy" even if their "co-conspirators" were law enforcement agents who had no intention of committing the illegal act. This should be called the "entrapment law."  

HB 1050 would add a new chapter to RCW 10.73 to allow state funded defense for criminal defendants on direct appeals, certain collateral attacks and more. It would also allow courts to assess the fees of legal representation involving juvenile defendants on the parents or legal guardians.

SB 5088 would substantially modify RCW 71.09.020 which allows for the "civil commitment" of "sex predators." The changes consist of widening what would be considered a "sex crime." It does not allow the release on bail of those accused under this law, it allows for a twelve person jury and allows for the conditional release to less restrictive facilities of some of those now held under this law.

If HB 1054 clears the house floor and makes it to the senate corrections committee Washington PLN readers will be notified, which may have happened by the time you get this issue. As we go to press still more anti-prisoner bills are being churned about by the wackos. To have a chance of being passed all non fiscal bills must be out of committee and on the floor of their respective house to be voted on by March 1, 1995. Any bills that don't make it out of committee in that time period are dead for this session. Anyone desiring copies of any of these laws, to check on their status and get the phone numbers and committee assignments of your representative can call 1-800-562-6000 or write: Bill Room, P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA. 98504-0600. Prisoners need to organize their outside friends and family to oppose these measures. As a first step writing and calling legislators to oppose these measures is a good start.

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