The legislature acknowledges that offender rehabilitation is a top priority for the Dept of Corrections, and finds that many individuals who have committed low-severity offenses have unmet behavioral health needs, as well as that people who are incarcerated have higher rates of victimization, trauma, and abuse. Furthermore, the legislature recognizes that many offenders are able to fully rehabilitate.
Therefore, SB 5819 intends to create an independent program of review to examine certain offenders’ rehabilitation process and their potential to reenter the community. This act intends to expand the authority and size of the existing “Indeterminate Sentence Review Board” and rename it as the “Post-conviction Review Board,” which will review post-conviction cases for early release.
Sec. 2 of this act establishes a new section to RCW chapter 9.94A that determines that a person may petition the Post-conviction Review Board for early release, provided that he/she:
- has served at least 15 consecutive years;
- has not committed a disqualifying serious infraction in the 12 months prior to filing a petition; and
- consents to a review of all of their medical, mental, and department files.
No later than five years prior to the date the offender will be eligible to petition for release, the Department must:
- Notify the offender regarding their eligibility;
- Conduct an assessment of the offender and identify programming and services that would be helpful to return to the community;
- If the offender has a prior known or diagnosed decreased cognitive function or developmental disability, the Department must assist the offender with the application process for review.
Section 3 of SB 5819 adds a new section to RCW chapter 9.95 regarding the steps that the board shall take to review the petition, and the denial process, which includes:
- The ability to deny a petition without a hearing due to the offender’s failure to meet the statutory eligibility for review based on:
- a risk-related infraction within the past 5 years;
- a security threat group concern within the past 5 years;
- a lack of compliance with the Department ’s recommended treatment or programming; or
- a new conviction after admission to prison.
A decision to grant petition for early release must be made by a majority vote of the board. The board must also consider public safety as the highest priority when making decisions regarding early release. Furthermore, the board shall seek input from the victim of the crime, if they so choose to be involved in the process.
If a petition is denied, the board shall provide the offender with a written report that specifies the reasons for denial and recommendations for a future petition. If the petition is approved, the board is able to set conditions for release, which may include:
- partial confinement for up to 6 months;
- regular drug/alcohol testing;
- no violations of law;
- restrictions on travel;
- no contact with certain individuals or classes;
- restrictions on type of employment; and
- any other restrictions found to be reasonable.
Additionally, an offender may be returned to the institution at the board’s discretion if the offender is found to have violated any of these conditions.
Section 4 of this bill establishes the requirement for the Post-conviction Review Board to evaluate outcomes and develop recommendations for changes to the eligibility requirements, and must submit a report by July 1st, 2022.
It is important to note that section 14 of this bill reenacts and amends RCW 9.95.003 to establish the removal of the “Indeterminate Sentence Review Board,” and renames it to “Post-conviction Review Board,” as an entity that operates within the governor’s office. Many RCWs are thus amended and reenacted within this bill to reflect this new language.
This section also emphasizes the need for the consideration of racial inequities in the criminal justice system, and thus sets requirements for membership that embody underrepresented communities.
Finally, Sections 79 & 80 establish that this act applies retroactively to persons incarcerated, and does not create any right or entitlement to early release from incarceration, but does create a right to petition the Post-conviction Review Board.