Proposed law offers offenders serving long sentences a chance for freedom

By Juan Morfin

WNPA News Service

Incarcerated individuals who serve 15, 20 or 25 years of total confinement would have the opportunity to apply for a conditional commutation under a bill passed by the Washington State Senate and now being considered in the House.

“This bill would establish a system in which individuals who have reformed themselves over many years could be released to community custody,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, a sponsor of this bill. “This is not about

pardons. This is about recognizing that people change.”

Virginia Parham, the mother to an inmate who has been incarcerated for 24 years, said she believes lawmakers should pass this bill.

“Families in Washington state need their loved ones, their incarcerated loved ones, to have an opportunity for a second chance or second look,” she said. “If a person has healed and transformed their behavioral patterns, then an opportunity to be reviewed for traditional commutation must be made available to them.”

If approved, appeals would be heard by the state Clemency and Pardons Board. Ultimately, it will be up to the Governor to approve or deny these petitions.

Some Republicans opposed to the bill said it allows people like Gary Ridgway — known as the Green River killer — to get out of jail. For that to happen, the Pardons and Clemency Board and the governor would have to approve the release.

Sen. Joe Nguyen had this to say during this week’s Democrat media availability: “I don’t know of that particular case in terms of the Green River killer, but I think there are other individuals where we believe it would be safe being able to have them in our communities again.”

During the floor debate for Senate Bill 5036, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said this bill would reverse an inmate’s sentencing allowing inmates to serve a sentence that is “less and not more.”

Padden said he was also concerned the bill would force the CPB to review every petition it receives after an inmate serves 20 years.

The bill was approved by the Senate on a party-line vote, and now is under consideration by the House Public Safety Committee.