Washington Legislature revises 3-strikes sentencing law

As many as 114 people serving life without parole will be eligible for resentencing.

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The Washington Legislature has passed a bill to resentence as many as 114 people serving life without parole under the state’s three-strikes law.

The Seattle Times reports Senate Bill 5164 affects those who “struck out” at least in part because of a second-degree robbery conviction, relating to a crime that generally involves no weapon or physical injury.

While such a conviction will no longer be considered a strike, whether people will remain in prison for some length of time would depend on what a judge decides based on the sentencing range for their convictions.

“You don’t just open the doors and let people walk out,” said Sen. Jeannie Darneille, the Tacoma Democrat who co-sponsored the bill and has been pushing similar legislation for at least 15 years. “It’s a process.”

The bill nevertheless has implications for a sizable share of the 277 people currently incarcerated under Washington’s toughest sentencing law.

“There’s some hope now. That can physically change a person,” said Waldo Waldron-Ramsey, criminal justice chair for the Alaska Oregon Washington State Area Conference NAACP. “Sometimes people are like the walking dead when they have no opportunity to get out.”

Waldron-Ramsey attributed the success of this year’s bill in large part to the racial reckoning that has followed the police killing of George Floyd. The nation’s first three-strikes law, approved by Washington voters in 1993, in many ways “targeted Black people,” he said. “You can see that by the numbers.”

Black people, representing 4% of the state’s population, in December accounted for 38% of those sentenced under the law, which mandates life in prison without parole for people convicted repeatedly of certain offenses, from robbery to assault to murder.

Lawmakers opposed to this year’s bill, propelled to victory by Democrats, spoke out Wednesday after the 52-46 vote.

“What the community is looking for, they’re looking for truth in sentencing, ” said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale. “This bill unwinds that” and lets “more and more out without safeguards in place for our community.”

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