By Anthony Powers
On the night of October 21st, 2018 the Cascadia Fault-Line experienced three earthquakes ranging between 6.5 and 6.8 on the Richter Scale. With the long overdue 9.0 earthquake expected from that same fault-line, and the U.S. military study released in 2017 about the devastation it would create, it made me wonder.
I wondered if the military's study proved accurate and 300,000 buildings in Washington State were damaged and 50,000 were completely destroyed where would that leave us? If the expected 24,000+ people were killed immediately in Grays Harbor County, as the study suggests, would I be one of them.
How desperate would I be if I were trapped in the rubble of a building after a massive earthquake? If I were surrounded by massive layers of concrete and steel, could I bring myself to amputate a limb to help me get out? If I didn't know whether or not I'd survive to get out would that justify drinking my own urine in hopes that it would help?
Desperation can cause people to concede due to the sheer magnitude of needing relief. Similar to being trapped in the rubble after a major quake, surrounded by concrete and steel, the same feelings of desperation exist in people who are in prison surrounded by concrete and steel. People serving lengthy sentences and not knowing if they'll survive to see a meaningful release.
Many men and women who were caught up by the draconian sentencing schemes of the 1980's and 1990's are serving extreme sentences in Washington State that now seem outdated and ineffective. Additionally, most of the people serving these sentences were incarcerated young in life and have since turned their lives around.
This coming year, 2019, Washington Legislators will have a choice. It really doesn't come down to if they will put some review process in place for those serving lengthy sentences, but more so what that review process will look like. Are people going to get meaningful relief, or will it be another sham process wrought with racial disparities similar to the ones that led to the Death Penalty being ruled Unconstitutional in our state?
It is important to understand that the desperation increases when you hear the rescue crews working outside. You begin to scream at the top of your lungs, "Help!!! Get me out of here!!!" When you are drowning you may begin to panic more when the lifeguard comes to your rescue. It is natural to have a surge of desperation when relief appears to be in sight. Professional rescue crews have to train in preparation for this panic displayed by the people being rescued. We have to mentally train ourselves not to become the ones panicking.
There is no need to drink our own urine. We have the option of drinking fresh water through the Community Review Board. A Board that, unlike the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB), is racially and professionally balanced. Just look at the old guidelines people who are still under the ISRB after spending more than 40 years in prison, or the Juveniles under the ISRB with a "Presumption of Release" but yet and still over half of them have been denied.
Just for clarity's sake, a "Presumption of Release" means that even if a person had a 50% chance of committing a crime in the future they would still be released under the law. Please bear in mind that most of these juveniles who were incarcerated in adult prisons are there for murder.
According to a study by an award winning journalist, and verified by the University of Washington, people convicted of murder had the lowest recidivism rate of out anyone. Only 1% of them returned to prison for any crime during the period of the study (which spanned 20 years), and none of them committed another murder. Yet somehow the ISRB has denied half of the juveniles under their jurisdiction claiming they were more than 51% likely to reoffend.
Do we really want them expanded to encompass even more of our people? Have we not learned from their current practices that they will continue to make the same inconsistent decisions? Have we not taken notice that the flood of appeals in the courts due to their flawed denials has led them to write up a draft of alphabetized procedures that would allow them to do all of the objectionable practices (now being challenged in the courts) under an expansion process of the ISRB?
We hear the rescuers working outside, but now is the time to control our breathing and think rationally. Washington State's disproportionate racial prosecutorial and sentencing practices have been above the national average for decades. Years ago, bias and inconsistent practices by the parole board led Washington Legislators to pass RCW 9.92.151 to give them standards for parole decisions. This was intended to safeguard the process and make it fair for everyone. The parole board themselves endorsed it.
Studies of the results of these standards showed that the parole board only followed these standards 63% of the time. That means 37% of people didn't get a fair shake. Would you be willing to take a risk at being in that 37% if there was a better option out there. Some might think it best to get their foot in the door and fix any flaws later, but that didn't work in the past.
Washington Legislators worked tirelessly for more than five years to eliminate the inconsistencies of the parole board in the past to no avail. Every time the parole board would pretend they were on board, then return to the same behaviors. Legislators decided there was no other option than to do comprehensive sentencing reform. Unfortunately, the Tough On Crime era began nationwide shortly afterwards and sentence reforms turned into extreme sentences.
The old saying that people who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it is an invaluable lesson for us today. We should learn that the only way to have a fair review process is to have its members be from a balance of backgrounds and professions. People who can relate and to the people being reviewed and make a sound decision on who should be released.