Senate passes Corrections reform bill a second time, keeps issue alive

OLYMPIA – The Washington Senate passed a Department of Corrections reform bill for the second time Tuesday, assuring the issue will remain under active consideration during the Legislature’s current special session.

Senate Bill 5294, prompted by last year’s early-release scandal, was one of several bills revived Tuesday as the full Senate met for the first time since the overtime session began last week. Also passing the Senate was SB 5239, which would overturn the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision last fall imposing difficult, if not impossible, bureaucratic obstacles on rural property owners seeking to drill domestic wells.

The Department of Corrections reform bill passed the Senate March 6, but it did not receive a vote on the House floor before the end of the Legislature’s regular session April 23.

“The Department of Corrections bill is one of the most important measures of the session,” Padden explained. “Last year the Senate Law and Justice Committee conducted an extensive investigation into the early release of some 3,000 violent and dangerous prisoners, some of whom committed new crimes when they should have been behind bars. This situation compels us to reform the department’s management practices, and ensure that it recognizes its first duty is to protect public safety.

“By passing this bill a second time, we signal that the Senate seeks action on this important issue before we adjourn for the year.”

The latest version of the DOC bill:

  • Establishes that the primary duty of the Department of Corrections is to protect public safety.
  • Creates an independent “ombuds” office to deal with complaints from the public, inmates and their families, advocate for further reforms, and make proposals to the Legislature.
  • Requires DOC to hand-calculate prisoners’ sentences if there is any reason to believe computers are calculating inaccurate sentences.
  • Mandates a performance audit by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee of DOC information technology programs.
  • Creates a legislative task force to consider ways to simplify the calculation of prison sentences.
  • Prohibits the state from settling whistleblower cases by barring employees from future state employment.