Tag: criminal justice reform

Resentencing Hearings Begin to Address Some “Three Strikes” Life Sentences

Russell Harvey attends his resentencing hearing via Zoom on June 3, 2021.

By Paul Kiefer

At the end of an emotional hearing on Wednesday, Russell Harvey still looked nervous. The 60-year-old sat facing a webcam in an office at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County—his beige uniform matching the empty wall behind him—as King County Superior Court Judge David Steiner signed the paperwork releasing Harvey after more than two decades in prison.

Just before Judge Steiner ended the hearing, Harvey leaned closer to the computer in front of him. “Thank you, Judge. I’m sure it was a tough decision.”

“It wasn’t,” Steiner replied.

Harvey is the second inmate in King County to be resentenced under a new Washington law that retroactively removes second-degree robbery from the list of offenses targeted by the state’s “three-strikes” statute, which imposes a life sentence without parole for so-called “persistent offenders.” In 1993, Washington became the first state in the country to adopt a three-strikes policy; at the time, the measure received broad bipartisan support.

But some Washington lawmakers are now trying to correct the long-term consequences of the “tough on crime” era, including by reconsidering the state’s harsh sentencing guidelines for nonviolent crimes. The bill that led to Harvey’s release, sponsored by Sen. Jeannie Darnielle (D-27, Tacoma), is only one element of the broader push to address excessive sentences, but for both incarcerated people and the King County Prosecutor’s Office, the new law is the culmination of more than a decade of advocacy.

“For a long time, you had to be able to prove that there were ‘exceptional’ circumstances to get someone released. And our office was arguing that life sentences for second-degree robbery were ‘exceptional’ in and of themselves—in a bad way.”—Carla Lee, King County Prosecutor’s Office

Twenty-four years ago, a King County Superior Court judge sentenced Harvey to life in prison after his third arrest for second-degree robbery, which—unlike other three-strikes offenses like rape and manslaughter—generally doesn’t involve a weapon or injury to another person. In the early years of his sentence, Harvey told the court, he repeatedly clashed with prison administrators and spent time in an “intensive management unit”—in other words, solitary confinement.

One of his trips to “the hole” brought him to breaking point, Harvey said. “I called my mom and I asked her what I should do,” he told the court in his opening remarks. “The disappointment in my mom’s voice—there’s no mistaking it. … She basically just hung up on me, right after she asked, ‘when are you going to learn?’ I didn’t want to be affecting people like that. That was when I hit rock bottom.” Harvey’s mental health suffered; according to his attorney, Susan Hacker, Harvey struggled through a series of “trials and errors” by prison medical staff who tried to prescribe him medication after diagnosing him with depression.

But in 2009, Harvey’s case caught the attention of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, which was assembling a list of inmates serving life sentences for three-strikes offenses involving at least one second-degree robbery with the goal of bringing their cases before Washington’s clemency board. That list grew to 45 names. Nearly two dozen received clemency, but Harvey was not among them.

Then, in 2020, the state legislature passed a law giving prosecutors the discretion to request resentencing for people whose original sentences no longer serve the “interest of justice.” In response, the King County Prosecutor’s Office created a sentence review unit and added Harvey’s name to a list of inmates eligible for re-sentencing. Largely because of COVID-19-related court delays, that resentencing effort also stalled, but Harvey received a third chance at release when the state legislature passed the new law that specifically affects inmates facing life in prison for three second-degree robberies.

Carla Lee, who leads the sentence review unit, told PubliCola that the newest resentencing law follows a model developed in King County since the prosecutor’s office first identified Harvey as a candidate for a reduced sentence. “For a long time, you had to be able to prove that there were ‘exceptional’ circumstances to get someone released,” she said. “And our office was arguing that life sentences for second-degree robbery were ‘exceptional’ in and of themselves—in a bad way. Our model has now been legislated, so other prosecutors now have to follow it.” Continue reading “Resentencing Hearings Begin to Address Some “Three Strikes” Life Sentences”

Justice Reform Advocate Behind Successful Diversion Program Wins MacArthur “Genius” Grant

This post originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

Image Credit: Hayley Young, Seattle magazine

Lisa Daugaard, the Seattle criminal justice reform advocate and director of the Public Defender Association (PDA), used to joke with her staff that she would never get a MacArthur grant—the no-strings-attached financial stipend commonly known as the “genius grant.” “It has been kind of an internal joke among my colleagues and family that this would never happen to me, because I had a particularly challenging dynamic with MacArthur over how the work in the [criminal justice] field should progress,” Daugaard says.

So when she got a call from the MacArthur Foundation—several calls, actually, plus a number of increasingly urgent texts—she thought, “I’ll get to this when I get to it.”

Daugaard was preoccupied with a more pressing problem—the latest city budget left the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program underfunded, and the PDA would have to stop taking on new clients starting in early 2020. The city has expanded the program geographically since it first started as a Belltown pilot program in 2005, but resources have not kept up with the expanding need, and the small staff is now “pinned at their desks” by staggering caseloads, Daugaard says. “We’ve been struggling with fairly profound questions about whether LEAD is going to make it in Seattle. … The model will collapse without some recognition that as we build enthusiasm for and willingness to use this model, by definition, we have to grow in capacity.”

So when her phone started ringing, Daugaard says, “I was very preoccupied and grumpy. That morning, I was walking around thinking, ‘I’m kind of done. I don’t think I can fix this.’”

When she finally returned the call, “and then I realized that the only thing they needed to ask me about was whether I would accept this award, it was just one of those moments in one’s life where the thing that you had absolutely, conclusively ruled out as ever possibly happening does happen, and it reminds you that you should probably stop assuming that you know what is possible,” Daugaard says.

LEAD, a joint effort between the PDA, police, and other community stakeholders, is a pre-arrest diversion program that offers alternatives to the criminal justice system for low-level offenders with mental illness and substance use disorders. The program has been shown to be more effective than other approaches at reducing recidivism, reducing arrests by 60 percent compared to other approaches. Versions of LEAD now exist across the country—a testament, supporters say, to the effectiveness of the program.

MacArthur’s process for choosing grant recipients is notoriously secretive. It involves following potential recipients’ work for multiple years and interviewing other people in their orbit to gauge the impact of their work. “The idea that folks who have tried to steer the criminal justice field are feeling confident about this direction was kind of news to me, and very welcome information,” Daugaard says.

She hopes Mayor Jenny Durkan and other city leaders are paying attention. “The people who confer about what direction our field needs to take have decided that this is a very promising direction and that this is not a risk. I hope that that is the takeaway,” she says.

As for what she plans to do with that $625,000 of grant money from the foundation? Daugaard says she’ll figure that out soon—right after she finishes up a couple of big projects, including training 15 organizations from across the U.S. on the LEAD model. “I think in 2020 I will be able to start stepping away and doing some writing” about the theory and practice of LEAD and why it works. She knows the program will go on whether she’s actively engaged on a day-to-day basis or not. “I’m proud and pleased that [LEAD] is not dependent on any one person or any one personality and style,” she says. “I’m really confident that that the same insights will be generated, and the same problem-solving will happen, whether I’m there or not.”