Lawmakers look at allowing judges to resentence people serving long prison terms

Charles Longshore, author of the Judicial Discretion Act, testifies at a committee hearing while incarcerated at Washington Corrections Center. (Photo courtesy Charles Longshore)

Washington Senate lawmakers on Thursday discussed legislation that would enable judges to review and shorten long prison sentences, including life sentences.

House Bill 2001, also known as the Judicial Discretion Act, was written by Charles Longshore, a criminal justice activist incarcerated in a prison north of Olympia. It’s sponsored by Rep. Tarra Simmons, D-Kitsap, the first formerly incarcerated lawmaker in Washington.

“There’s nothing more [the Department of Corrections] can offer me. I’ve been deemed a low risk to re-offend,” said Longshore, who is serving time for killing two people in 2012. “I’ve reconciled all broken relationships. I’ve taken responsibility for my actions, and I’ve heard the words ‘I forgive you’ from survivors in my case.”

“But even after this message I give you, I still have two decades to serve,” Longshore said. “At what point is our state going to begin taking a second look at sentences imposed?”

The Judicial Discretion Act passed the House but did not make it to a Senate committee hearing during the 2024 legislative session, derailing the bill this year. During the interim, lawmakers can still hold work sessions to learn more about legislation. The next session begins Jan. 13, 2025.

Under the Judicial Discretion Act, people convicted of aggravated first-degree murder or considered “persistent offenders” would not be eligible for resentencing. Otherwise, prisoners are eligible if they’ve served 10 years if convicted as an adult or 7 years if convicted as a juvenile. Petitioners would have to demonstrate “substantial rehabilitation,” “minimal risk of reoffense” or evidence of facts that weren’t available at the time of the conviction.

The state abolished parole in 1984 with few exceptions during the national “tough on crime” movement. Prosecutors can petition for a new sentence under a law that took effect in 2020, Senate Bill 6164, but have only filed 43 petitions out of 1,292 requests, according to data from public records requests presented by the Washington State Office of Public Defense. 

“6164 is frankly a low priority,” said Chad Enright, representing the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in front of lawmakers on Thursday. “We do not have the staffing to do substantial resentencings.”

The impact on victims, people in prison

Enright said he supports the bill but worries about the implications for crime victims, who may have to relive trauma during a prisoner’s petition, and prosecutors, who are struggling with staffing shortages. Enright said a third of the positions in his office in Kitsap County are empty. The Washington State Association of Counties said that if the bill is passed, the Legislature will need to provide counties with significant resources to implement it.

One sexual assault survivor, identified only as Lynne, pleaded with lawmakers to not allow those convicted of sexual assault to be eligible under the act should it pass.

“Should conduct in prison outweigh the gravity of the crime? Must sexual assault victims break open old wounds in order to respond to an offender’s petition for early release?” Lynne said. “We must not heap more wrongs on innocent survivors.”

But groups representing survivors testified in support of the legislation and praised the victim fund it would also create to support survivors through services and training. Em Stone, public policy director at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, referenced surveys suggesting crime victims are twice as likely to support rehabilitation over incarceration.

“What we hear most from survivors is that they want the abuse to stop, and for the person who harmed them to get help,” said Stone, who also pointed out that the majority of women incarcerated are survivors of domestic violence, and many of them are in prison for crimes related to their abuse.

Currently and formerly incarcerated people said the Judicial Discretion Act would give prisoners hope and encourage rehabilitation. Jacob Schmitt, who was freed from prison under Senate Bill 6164, called the system created by the 2020 law a “failed process” and said his release took an “enormous amount of leveraging.”

“I don’t know how we make this into a recipe that works well for county prosecutors or for defense attorneys,” Schmitt said. “But I want to emphasize to the committee those should not be the deciding factors on how we administer justice — particularly when we know better.”

The Washington State Office of Public Defense, the Washington Defender Association and the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission also testified in support, pointing to the disproportionate impacts of incarceration on communities of color and cases where they’ve seen people grow and change in prison.

“We don’t have discussions on how much it costs to imprison people,” said King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván, co-chair of the Minority and Justice Commission. “When it comes to correcting injustice, it’s always ‘correcting our errors is too great a cost.’ I submit that not correcting them is an even greater cost.”

— By Grace Deng, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and X.

  1. I would say longshore is right where he should be. I feel his sentence was appropriate. Maybe some people should get a second look but he has only served about 1/3 of his sentence come back after you have served 3/4 of it.

    1. Cut sentences back, when these two lives can’t be brought back?!!! No way! Think of the victims’ loved ones!

  2. As if Washington is not lenient and lawless enough. Ridiculous. The considered decision was made: No resentencing.

  3. Democrats legalized drugs and vilified police. The supported groups who burned and looted and helped them escape accountability. They freed convicted felons. They opened the border to felons from prisons all over the world. I guess this is the “Saving Democracy “ thing they repeat at election time. Why not release some more criminals into our state. Oh and remember they do not support gun ownership for self defense, only criminals have that right. The do however draw the line at paying for a non disclosure agreement, that is a felony that is super important. Saving Democracy lol vote very carefully.

  4. I see only Democrats favoring this silly idea. If passed, courts and Prosectors offices would be flooded with resentencing requests. If there is a truly meritorious case to be made for early release the prisoner should petition the Governor for commutation of his/her sentence or seek early parole from the parole board. There is a remedy. My experience is only the most heinous crimes result in long prison terms or when someone is a serious habitual offender which, frankly, should happen more, not less.

    1. Thank you Kim. I had always thought Washington state did have a parole system. I had no reason to inquire about it until today and here’s what I found.
      FYI –
      “In its place now is the Indeterminate Sentences Review Board (ISRB), a panel run by the Department of Corrections that reviews three types of cases: certain sex offenses committed on or after September 1, 2001; cases involving juveniles sentenced as adults; and any crimes committed before 1984.”
      – Seattle weekly
      So now they’re proposing to reinstate a similar system, only this time involving judicial judgment instead of a parole board.
      This is wrong. They should just bring back the parole board review within the prison system to prevent excessive judgments in certain cases.
      Or do nothing at all and leave it the way it is. Victims of crime didn’t get a second chance why should the perpetrator?

  5. Isn’t Rep. Tarra Simmons D-Kitsap the same one who’s pushing for allowing prisoners to have full voting rights as well as to serve on juries?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.