There is a new push led by State Senator Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), to overturn Washington’s “Three Strikes” law. In 1993, the voters of this state approved the Three Strikes initiative by 76%. Since then, it has kept repeat violent criminals off the street and deterred many others from becoming repeat offenders. The original bill produced positive changes to the criminal sentencing laws of this state since it was adopted into law. This Democrat proposal would allow violent offenders who have been convicted of 3 or more felonies a chance to be paroled.
The Three Strikes law is clear and understandable: Anyone convicted of a third serious felony will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The only way out of prison would be to convince the Governor to grant a pardon or clemency. The purpose of Three Strikes was to put a stop to repeat offenders being let out of prison after their sentences were served, only to create more victims of their violent crimes. Washington was the first state in the nation to pass a Three Strikes law. Since then, 23 other states and the federal government have enacted some form of “Three Strikes, You’re Out” laws to deal with repeat perpetrators of violent felonies.
In Washington, only about 12% of state felonies count towards the Three Strikes rule. These included: rape, robbery, child molestation, serious assault, manslaughter or murder. “Crime sprees, regardless of the number of offenses, only count as one strike. As an additional safeguard for borderline cases, any felony listed as a strike, but which is not classified as either a class A felony or a sex offense has a ‘wash-out’ provision of either 5 or 10 years of conviction-free living in the community”. This allows for leniency based on law-abiding conduct for those previously convicted and an opportunity to remove previous strikes. Democrats want to expand this already generous leniency.
They want to allow the early release of prisoners without a pardon by the Governor. They believe after a certain point, people are rehabilitated. To them, this point of rehabilitation is when a prisoner is over the age of 50 and has served 15 years behind bars. The problem is, these people were sentenced to life in prison after their third strike. These strikes are not easy to get, since only about 12% of the most violent state felonies, count towards the three strikes rules. These repeat violent offenders chose to continue to commit acts of violence, even after they knew of the three-strike policy and it had been implemented.
If the Democrats believe so strongly in the idea of repeat violent offender rehabilitation, there is currently a provision in the law to reduce the time spent behind bars. It is called a pardon. The Democrats apparently don’t believe enough in rehabilitation to rely on this however, since if a pardoned prisoner commits a crime, the political consequences of the pardon would be enormous. If they can release many of these three strikes prisoners on parole and dilute the pool enough, having a few repeat violent crimes after release does not have the same political impact.
Another reason stated by Sen. Darnielle for her proposal is that those who helped pass Three Strikes in 1993 did not realize the bill would do what it was intended to do. Darnielle stated, “Something legislators may not have considered when the three-strikes law was implemented is that those prisoners will grow old and die in prison”. Well, this is what the bill was meant to do. Furthermore, politicians, like Sen. Darnielle, didn’t pass this law, the citizens of Washington State did, and by a large margin. The idea that lawmakers crafted a bill to put repeat offenders behind bars for life with no chance of parole and did not realize that it would end up putting people behind bars for life is a ridiculous notion that only a modern-day Democrat could concoct. Not only this, but she also is calling into question the ability of Washington voters to know how they want their state to be run—they approved three strikes, not the legislature.
Sen. Darnielle further added that it is a strain on the state’s finances stating that “An inmate who is over 50 costs the Department of Corrections about four times as much as the average prisoner for health care, medicine, and other accommodations”. Since when did Democrats in our state start caring about easing the burden on taxpayers? The answer to this is, they don’t. They want to use a conservative argument to win this debate since the substance behind their own argument is weak. If they actually cared about the burden on taxpayers, they wouldn’t be: pushing for a state-based healthcare for all system that could increase this state’s spending by up to 10 billion dollars; attempting to pass illegal capital gains taxes; and proposing an additional 21 cents per gallon gasoline tax which will cost taxpayers an additional $10 billion and which won’t improve traffic congestion or commute times.
Reframing the Republican desire to keep our state and citizens safe as a tax and spending issue clearly shows the lack of integrity of Democrats in Olympia—they desire to win politically rather than protect the citizens they were elected to represent.
Camden, Jim. “As Washington Lawmakers Debate Ending Life Imprisonment for 3-strikes, Mom of Spokane Murder Victim Speaks out.” Spokesman. February 20, 2019.
Lacourse, David. “Three Strikes, You’re Out: A Review.” Washington Policy Center. January 1, 1997.