OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Early prison release could soon be a possibility for inmates, including those convicted of murder and those serving life sentences. It is a bill that passed out of a state senate committee Thursday.
A last minute change to the bill (SB 5819) was made taking out aggravated murder as one of the crimes eligible for consideration. It prevents somebody like Green River killer Gary Ridgway from getting out.
"We cannot be a society that locks people up and forgets about them," said state Senator Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond. "People change. People evolve."
The idea is to give longtime prison inmates a second chance to prove they've changed with the possibility of getting out earlier. They would be eligible to apply after they have served a minimum 15 years for felonies and 20 years for murder.
Brandon Pedro is serving 22 years for assaulting a man and testified on closed circuit TV from prison.
"I am apologetic for this crime," he said. "This bill's passing in my case would be the difference between walking hand in hand with my son throughout high school, allowing me to be present to steer my son away from the same inter-generational incarceration cycle that affected me."
Under the bill, a new eight member post-conviction Review Board would be formed of former judges, a representative of communities of color, and a representative from an organization of the formerly incarcerated and a behavioral health specialist. They would decide each prisoner's chances of success on the outside.
"And recognize we have a way for that person to spend that time in prison," said bill sponsor state Senator Jeannie Darnielle, D-Tacoma. "Do that time for the crime, but not to spend the rest of their life in prison."
"This is killing me," testified Sidney Oie earlier this month. Her son was killed by an early released inmate just two weeks after getting out. "Every time we think we get something settled there's another new thing we have to jump over and we don't have help."
Angie Dowell fears her father's killer will get out with this new board.
"As citizens we rely on our justice system to make decisions that not only punish an offender for his or her crime, but to keep us safe from repeat offenses," she testified at the same hearing.
The measure passed 4-3 along party lines and now goes to the senate budget committee to see if it will be sent to the full senate for a vote.