Washington state calls to Expand Alternatives to Incarceration Again in 2019


Photo: T.Q. testifying in front of Senate Committee on video conferenced in from prison.

Success is not possible without opportunity.” 

-T.Q. Incarcerated Mother, Washington Corrections Center for Women

On January 16th, 2019, the Washington State Senate Human Services, Reentry & Rehabilitation Committee heard compelling testimony from incarcerated parents, children of incarcerated parents and formerly incarcerated parents urging them to consider expanding Washington’s alternative sentencing law which would allow to more parents to serve time in the community instead of behind bars. SB 5291 marks the third year such efforts have been considered for expansion. The current bill includes expanding the definitions of custody beyond “physical custody” to include non-custodial parents, expecting parents, step-parents and other legal custody arrangements. Sadly, missing from this year’s effort is the central ask from advocates, which is to expand the alternative to parents serving time for violent crimes.

For the second year in a row and the first time ever by video conferencing, T.Q. a mother incarcerated at Washington Corrections Center for Women called in to testify and both educate and explain just why parents serving time for violent crimes need the opportunity to participate in alternative sentencing programs just like parents with nonviolent crimes. Her testimony which can be listened to in full here, included remarks such as:

This program should not exclude children who have parents who have committed a violent crime. Every child’s parent deserves a chance to participate in the formal application process whether they have a violent crime or not. Because regardless of outcome. That parent is going to be released to their child. And the ideal transition would be with the CPA structure and support…Success is not possible without opportunity. 

Following T.Q. we heard from D.G., a 10-year-old living with an incarcerated father. D.G.'s testimonywhich included statements such as “my dad won’t be able to experience me growing up,” had legislators commenting “it’s kinda dusty in here” as they teared up on camera. Overall, the testimony highlighted how little sense it makes to limit who can apply to the alternative and how necessary it is to provide more parents with a roadmap and the support necessary to further both rehabilitation and reintegration. 

Photo: 10 year old D.G. smiling after her testimony.

There are many misconceptions about families and incarcerated parents that this law seeks to remedy such as:

•    Allowing parents to apply for consideration of the alternative regardless of crime

There is an assumption that a parent with a violent crime would be more likely to harm their children, whereas many people with violent crimes are actively parenting from prison. It makes no sense to leave them out. Also, we are not going to solve mass incarceration without supporting alternatives for people with violent crimes.

•    Making eligible all parents and caregivers not just primary custodians

Under a narrow reading, current law does not explicitly cover pregnant parents or parents whose partners were expecting at the time of sentencing. Nor does it explicitly include non-custodial parents with children in open adoptions, non-parental custody decrees, or guardianship. Further, low income individuals as well as LGBTQ families often have informal parenting relationships that may not be recognized or able to be proved under the current definition. Justice Strategies is concerned with bills that limit alternatives and parental diversion only to primary caretakers. Such bills unnecessarily leave out and do not value the contributions of non-custodial parents in the lives of their children. We will be watching and keeping folks up to date as these efforts move forward.

•    Lifting unnecessary barriers for immigrant families

Under current law Individuals with immigration detainers are ineligible. Immigration Customs Enforcement deportation detainer does not necessarily mean that an individual will be deported as they may have relief or what is called cancellation from removal.

More information on the advocacy efforts here.

Full testimony on the bill from January 16, 2019 starting around 1:20.





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