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.

Oregon Voters: Congressman Peter DeFazio on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

In response to a letter we sent to Congressman DeFazio in Oregon, we received the following:

Dear Ms. Brown:

Thank you for contacting me about mandatory minimum sentencing. We are in complete agreement on this issue. 

You will be pleased to know that I have consistently supported legislation to either reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences. For example, I was a cosponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act last Congress. This bill would have reduced mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses. The bill also would have directed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and amend its guidelines for sentencing and requires the Attorney General to submit a report on how cost savings from these changes will be used to further reduce prison overcrowding and invest in prevention, intervention, and improved law enforcement.

With federal prisons currently operating at between 35 and 40 percent above their rated capacity, there is no question our federal sentencing system needs reform. I have long had serious concerns about the increased use of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for non-violent first time drug offences. I have met with many judges who felt sentences they were required to hand down were excessive, but were unable to apply any discretion to the sentences because of mandatory minimum laws. The effects of such sentences from these failed policies are making hardened criminals out of non-violent offenders.

In place of mandatory minimums I support reinstating federal parole, among other policy options. I am also interested in alternatives to incarceration where appropriate. For example, I have always supported funding for drug treatment courts. Drug courts play an important role in breaking the cycle between drug abuse and crime.  They combine substance abuse treatment, mandatory drug testing, sanctions and incentives, and transitional services to help substance-abusing offenders get back on their feet and prepare for re-entry into the community. These services are not only critical for past abusers by helping individuals become self-sufficient and contributing members of society, but drug courts also help build safer communities. Additionally, as a County Commissioner I fought hard to establish a work camp that served as an alternative to incarceration. I believe that it would be worthwhile to look into similar alternatives on a federal level. 

Thanks again for contacting me. You can be sure I will continue to fight for long overdue reforms to our criminal justice system. Please keep in touch.

Sincerely,

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PETER DeFAZIO
Fourth Congressional District, Oregon