L-R: Senator Adam Kline, former 3-Striker Stevan Dozier who was released under clemency, and King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg speak in support of Senate Bill 5263 at a press conference prior to the hearing for the bill.  January 19, 2011.

Senate Bill 5236 was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.  It would allow Washington 3-Strikers who have only Class B felonies and no weapons charges or sexual offenses to apply for parole after serving 15 years.  The current sentence for all 3-Strikers is 777 years, 77 months, and 77 days with no possibility of release.  

Over the last decade, 11 or more bills proposing to reform 3-Strikes - primarily by removing lower-seriousness crimes from the list of Most Serious Offenses - have failed due to opposition from prosecutors, crime victims, and radio talk show host John Carlson.  Carlson was a primary author of the 1993 ballot initiative that created the 3-Strikes law.

The current bill is much more narrow in scope than most previous proposals, allowing an estimated 15-20 3-Strikers to apply for conditional release under parole.  It was supported at the hearing in testimony from King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Senator Kline noted that the review of 3-Strikers required under the new law would not require additional state funds - and that state spending would be reduced for each individual released.  (The current average annual cost to incarcerate in Washington State prisons is over $30,000 per person.* With an average age of 39 at conviction, and a sentence that extends into old age, 3-Strikers are an older group, and therefore more expensive to house.)

Representatives from The League of Women Voters of Washington, Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates, Lutheran Public Policy Office, Friends Committee on Washington Public Policy (Quakers), Columbia Legal Services, and Justice Works! signed in support of the bill. Others supporting the bill included several family members of 3-Strikers and about two dozen community members attending as part of Justice Works! grassroots organizing for 3-Strikes reform.

Others who testified in favor include:

  • John Turner, Chief of Police for the City of Snohomish and Vice Chair of the state's Clemency and Pardons Board testified that the members of that board are volunteers.  Each case that comes before them requires substantial time to review.  The 3-Strikes cases involving only Class B felonies would place too high a burden on their time.

    This board has previously heard the cases of four 3-Strikers: Stevan Dozier, Al-Kareem Shadeed, Michael Bridges, and Mary London, and has unanimously recommended clemency each time.  Only Stevan Dozier, however, has been released, as clemency must be approved by the Governor and Governor Gregoire has made a decision in only one of these four cases.

  • Lynne DeLano, Chair of the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board, more commonly known as the parole board, testified that the small number of additional people who would be seen by her board if the bill passed would not require them to take on additional staff.

  • Former State Representative Seth Armstrong, who was Chair of the House Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and a principal author of Washington's Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA), testified that, since he worked on authoring the SRA, he has been dismayed to witness amendments to it that have increased the level of incarceration in the state and directed funds away from education and other uses that are important for public safety.

  • Stevan Dozier, who served under 3-Strikes until he was released under clemency in May 2009, now works as a case strategist with a local nonprofit, helping at-risk youth make choices that will keep them in school and avoid involvement in the criminal justice system.  He also volunteers widely with this population.  He testified that the bill will allow people who are rehabilitated to return to the community and make a positive contribution.

Former State Representative Seth Armstrong (rust-colored sweater) waits in line to sign in support of Senate Bill 5236.
Armstrong was Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and instrumental in the writing and passage of Washington's Sentencing Reform Act, the basis of our current criminal sentencing structure.  David Coburn, another supporter, smiles for the camera.

Radio talk show host John Carlson, who earlier supported the clemency petition of 3-Striker Stevan Dozier, was the only person who testified against the bill.  He said that Assault 2 is too serious to include and that the bill does not adequately take the will of the people into account.  He suggested removing Assault 2 from the bill and re-writing it so that the governor would need to sign off on each conditional release.

Senator Carrell, a member of the committee, commented several times that Assault 2 is similar to Assault 1, a crime of high violence.  Dan Satterberg responded that Assault 2 is a significantly less serious crime and that prosecutors do not typically allow defendants to plead down from Assault 1 to Assault 2.  Prior to passage of 3-Strikes, a third conviction for Assault 2 often brought a 15 month sentence.  Under 3-Strikes, it brings Life Without Parole.  Satterberg stated that he felt 15 years to Life is more reasonable than either extreme.  Senator Kline noted that the gulf between the two degrees of Assault is about the largest there is between two degrees of any crime in the state.  

SB 5236
Russell Rivers and Carolyn Walden attended the January 19 hearing in support of this bill.  Rivers' brother, Paul Rivers, and his nephew, David Conyers, are 3-Strikers who would qualify to apply for parole under the law.  Walden is a strike crime victim.

Carolyn Walden, a retired accountant, also attended in support of the bill.  

As she states in a filmed interview published last year, she voted for 3-Strikes in 1993.  Years later, however, after she was injured in a robbery in which a young man grabbed her purse and knocked her to the ground, she looked into the law further.  And she discovered that it wasn't what she thought when she voted for it.  Based on advertisements at the time, she had believed that only crimes of high seriousness would result in a 3-Strikes sentence.  The man who committed the robbery and assault against her was not caught.  But if he had been, the crime would have counted as a strike.  Carolyn Walden would have wanted him to receive serious corrective measures but not Life Without Parole - even, she states, if she had been the victim all three times. She wrote to me after the hearing that the last line of her testimony at the hearing, had time allowed for her to speak, would have been: "This bill gives hope and possibility but retains all the necessary safeguards."



*Washington State Institute for Public Policy estimated in 2003 a cost of nearly $32,000 per inmate, annually.  (The criminal justice system in Washington State: incarceration rates, taxpayer costs, crime rates, and prison economics, 1/03.  See page 8.)

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