In the 1999 legislative session O'Brien introduced HB 2143. Rather than repeal RCW 72.09 480 in its entirety; the bill would simply amend the law so that prisoners receiving less than $100 a month from sources outside prison would only have 15% taken by the state (10% for a savings account and 5% for a victims fund). Anything over $100 would still have 35% taken by the state.
At a public hearing deputy DOC secretary David Savage testified strongly in support of keeping RCW 72.09.480. Prisoner advocates John Nelson, Jack Roos, Bill Jeske and Sara Fleming testified against it. A substitute bill was introduced at the DOC's urging which would have allowed prisoners to receive less than $100 a mouth and have 25% taken (20% for the DOC's "cost of incarceration" and 5% for victimes compensation).
The final version of HB 1143 that passed contained no changes of substance. Prisoners and their spouses are still subject to having 35% of all funds seized, whether they receive $1 or a thousand dollars. The primary changes that were made are solely an attempt to thwart pending court challenges to the statute.
The 1999 amendments state that prisoners in death row and doing life without parole shall only have 25% of their money taken by the DOC. This was done to meet a claim in Wright v. Riveland that it made little sense to establish savings accounts for prisoners who, according to the state, would, never live to collect them. To meet a censorship claim in Humanists of Washington v. Lehman challenging the DOC's plan to eliminate postage stamps, RCW 72.09.480 was amended to exempt from seizure money sent in to prisoners for the purpose of paying postage.
When RCW 72.09.480 was first enacted, it was literally one sentence in length. After only four years the law now takes up over half a page in the RCWs, with no end in sight.
Responding to news of judge Hall's ruling striking down the law; Representative Ida Ballasiotes, the Republican cochair of the House corrections committee, told the Seattle Times "I'm not surprised by this. I'm really not. We've heard nothing but complaints from family members since the law passed." The complaints have fallen on deaf ears as far as the legislature is con cerned. In any case, the struggle on this issue is far from over.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login