Washington State: House Bill 1344, Emerging Adult Parole

Washington State: House Bill 1344, Emerging Adult Parole

In a state like Washington that has no functional rehabilitative motivators, House Bill 1344, Emerging Adult Parole, may be a step in a positive direction. Washington’s parole is limited in scope to juvenile offenders and sex offenses, with very few parole cases tied to a failed system from the 1970s and 80s that allowed hundreds to be simply warehoused in prison. With the movement of HB1344 in our legislative session starting January 10, 2022, many more youthful offenders can be moved to a parole system that will provide both a reduction of prison populations AND be a qualifier for meaningful rehabilitation. As brain science has expanded over the last several decades, cases before the US Supreme Court (the elimination of life sentences for juveniles), down to the Washington State Supreme Court (Personal Restraint Petition of Monschke, establishing 21 as the age of majority for culpability of crime in cases where “Life Without Parole” sentencing was given), have all agreed that those below a certain age, notably those between 18 to 21, are more impulsive and less matured and have a higher propensity for committing crimes, and should be handled differently than fully matured brains.

But those inmates grow up paying for those impulses, sometimes in the shadow of decades long exceptional sentencing, where a minute of youthful indiscretion leads to decades, or a lifetime, of imprisonment. HB1344 would move those under this youthful category to a parole system already in place for juveniles. A person at age 40 is distinctly different than at age 19, but the current design of our state’s system provides no recognition of that fact. But what if a thirty-or-forty-something grasps the true reality and gravity of their crime with maturation? For a country that demands a legal age for controlled substance usage, we seem to see the responsibility goalpost travel when it comes to crime. The brain science shows responsibility patterns are the same between an 18 year old, a 21 year old, and even for 15 and 16 year olds. Shouldn’t this also be accounted for equally in all aspects of legal findings?

HB1344 will require a younger offender to serve a statutory minimum portion of the sentence, but provide incentive room for that offender to capitalize on his maturity through positive rehabilitation. If a younger person can show significant change and qualify it to a parole board, he may be granted an opportunity at relief from the incarcerated portion of a sentence. And for a state like Washington that doesn’t do this for all categories of offender, it’s high time we start demanding the correctional system be held accountable for ensuring a quality product is being placed back into the community. Efforts like HB1344 would provide such accountability, while being backed by courts throughout the nation and tangible scientific findings.

As it stands, I know many people that entered this system as youngsters and will leave just in time to collect a social security pension they never paid into, and without a support system that was lost a lifetime ago. Is that the right answer? I suggest it isn’t. And as for victims of these offenders, remorse comes with a much heavier hand when one is old enough to understand the power of that remorse and the room to be responsible with it. Allow time to add that remorse to the benefit of your community and parole to ensure it contributes vibrantly post incarceration. Additionally, values and morality can be fostered through hard work and hope. For a system that currently replaces a young adult’s family structures with bureaucracy, it takes personal determination to learn them. HB1344 is the hope and a parole board will make sure the hard work is present.

Expanding parole is a meaningful step to fixing an expensive and failing system. Please show your support for this bill.

Recycle Me

Recycle Me

With over 2 million citizens of this country locked in cages, one can’t help but feel as though our lives are dispensable. One can’t help but feel as though our society deems us not worthy of correction that would send us back to our communities as assets rather than liabilities. If the trend has been to lock up, throw away the key, and provide very few mechanisms for rehabilitation, how can anyone reach an alternative conclusion to what I just outlined?

For myriad reasons, many of us chose a wayward path during our youth that involved crime, drugs, and more. It’s also important to note that this behavior took root before our brains were able to develop into a mature, rationally-minded person. Not to make excuses, but our immature brains that hadn’t undergone the process of strengthening our neocortex — responsible for rational thought, projection of consequences, goal-setting, and more  (studies show the adult brain reaches full development around 26) — were in full swing in our decision-making processes. Many parents with teenagers and young adult children will readily attest to the frustration they endure over the many mindless decisions their impulsive children make; the good thing is most of these decisions are not costly, certainly not in terms of leading to violations of state laws that can result in long prison sentences. And then there are the rest of us.

Those of us who came to prison at a young age (prior to 26), are forced to navigate a new world of criminality, manipulation, violence, brutality, and inhumane conditions of many proportions. We are left with our self-preservation skills, will to survive, and, if we are lucky, an environment that supports our developmental process that will likely include a desire to change, learn, and grow. This is what I found early in my sentence and thank God I was able to take full advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, eventually leading to a graduate degree and a state certification in the substance addictions field. I now have an insatiable drive to deliver these services to the community that I took so much from when I am released in a few short years. Today, my life has value, purpose, and meaning.

When human lives are trafficked through our penal system like product on a conveyor belt, dumped into large trash bins (prisons) with no way to climb out for countless years, our society sends us a powerful message of what our worth is — or is not. Yet, I have had the privilege (yes, that’s not a misprint) of knowing some of the most incredibly talented, altruistic, intelligent people I have ever known right here in these “trash bins.” I believe this is because while here they dug deep within themselves to discover who they really are without the influence of substances, negative environs, and, oh yes, the opportunity for their immature brains to develop. That’s the good news. The bad news is many of them will never see the light of day in the free world again. Many will be over 100 — if they’re so lucky — before their release date comes. Their talents, gifts, and value are limited to being realized only within these walls. What a shame.

We are encouraged to recycle many products after using them because we know, once sent through a process of being broken down and restored to new form, these products will once again have value; they will go on to serve another purpose. In the same way this is an expected outcome, human lives are also of value and purpose after coming through this rigorous process. Of course, we could do far better as a society with what we offer those in prison to restore themselves, but that aside, many undergo a life-changing maturation process while here based on their sheer determination and self-will. So please, in the same way you refuse to throw away your plastic milk cartons, do not throw us away — recycle us. Allow us to show you our value.

Letters From Prison: I am no longer intimidated

Letters From Prison: I am no longer intimidated

Support for people who have been convicted of a crime is not a popular cause – but only because we’re not looking at it from the proper perspective. Support does not mean providing cable tv, video games, and haute cuisine – it means humane treatment and care, mentorship, education, and outside support, so that each incarcerated person emerges whole, equipped to live a productive, crime-free life. The most common reason that people end up in prison is that they have no positive social networks. The inherent darkness and isolation of prison only exacerbates that – which in turn leads to high rates of recidivism. Ninety-five percent of incarcerated people will be released into our communities, so their success and well-being directly impacts all of us.

Suffering is the problem, not the solution.

Below is a note I received today from one of our adoptees, Josh.

My name is Josh and I have been in and out of lock up facilities since I was 12 years old. Throughout my life I have had little or no support from anyone in my family. Due to that I went in search for support from the wrong people such as drug dealers, gang bangers, and other kids like me.

At the age of seventeen I commited a robbery and was sentenced to six years in the Indiana Department Of Corrections. At seventeen! I have been locked up for over five years and during that time I have had no support from my family. No visits, no phone calls, no letters, no love. In my five years I have seen so many people go home and come back to prison because they had no one to help them adjust to society.

After being locked up for so long, people forget how to function in the real world. MOST inmates are intimidated by the thought of going home. That is so sad and wrong. I used to feel the same way. Then I was introduced to a wonderful family called the Adopt an Inmate family. They introduced me to a loving, caring, and supportive mentor. Because of the support she has given me, I am no longer intimidated by the thought of getting out — because I know there is someone who will be with me and help me.

The saying goes, ‘Two wrongs dont make a right.” How is condeming someone to life behind a wall, alone, right?

Image credit Yoann Boyer

Letters From Prison: Prison & Kids by Tod Bailey

Ainsworth, Michael. Retrieved February 27, 2016
             from The Steep Cost of Keeping Juveniles in Adult Prisons [Online image].

No mother or father would ever expect their child to go to prison. Mine didn’t. First off, people need to know exactly how easy it is for people to go to prison these days.

In Oregon, Theft-1 (stealing something from $50 – $100) is punishable by up to 24 months in prison. Depending on your record and Oregon’s Measure 11 fiasco, it could ruin the rest of your life.

I was 19 years old and had never been in trouble before, and made a terrible mistake. Robbery-1. In dealing with our justice system, I was extorted, shamed, humiliated; and received a 15-year prison sentence as a first-time offender.