Bill in Washington could change life without parole sentencing

OLYMPIA, Wash.– A bill that could allow some of Washington’s most dangerous criminals to get out of prison is working its way through the state’s legislature.

The bill makes “life without parole” obsolete. It calls for any offender to be allowed to request parole after they’ve served 15, 20, or 25 years of their sentence.

That included convicted killers who judges have sentenced to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Rep. Jenny Graham said this bill goes way too far and will hurt the families of victims.

“It’s a life sentence for us and I think that this is just very unfair. It is a slap in the face to crime victims and their families,” Graham said.

She also has a personal reason for opposing the bill.

Her sister Debby was 15 when she was murdered by the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway. Ridgeway admitted to killing 49 people in the 80s and 90s.

“I met with Gary Ridgeway face to face, and he did say to me that if he were to get out he would do it again,” she said.

While Ridgeway would not be able to ask for parole under this bill because of a stipulation in his plea agreement, other killers could.

“We have a responsibility to do better in this department. Especially, when the numbers are rising. We’re going in the wrong direction. I don’t think we have to be mean. I don’t think we need to be cruel. we need to set those healthy boundaries,” Graham said.

People who support the bill say it reduced the jail population and also the disproportionate effect it has on minority populations.

“It’s really creating a process for anyone that’s been incarcerated and give them the opportunity after 20 years– two decades to apply for relief based on what they’ve done and what they’ve been a part of–redemption is what it’s about,” NAACP Regional President Gerald Hankerson said.

Hankerson says he was given a life sentence without parole for aggravated murder but was later found wrongfully convicted nearly two decades later.

Supporters said this bill also puts an emphasis on rehabilitation and gives people a second chance. However, that would only come at the discretion of the clemency board, which would be expanded from five people to 10.

“Making sure the community at large has a seat at the table as well. Who else best to say that I could come back to the community than the community itself so the victims do have a part in this process,” Hankerson said

There is a public hearing for it on Thursday. The bill died in committee last session.

You can read it yourself here.

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