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WA lawmakers working on major reforms to criminal justice system

King County Jail. (KIRO 7)

Big changes could be coming to Washington’s criminal justice system. State lawmakers are working on new policies — and it’s the first effort at comprehensive reform since the system was set up almost 40 years ago.

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Lawmakers say they’re also hoping some of the changes will address the big problem of repeat offenders.

Businesses and individuals have complained to the city, county, to local prosecutors and judges about the problem of repeat offenders, demanding change.

One Tuwkila mom, Kim McComb-Buehler, whose son was killed by a repeat offender is hoping sharing the story about her son’s violent death will help drive some changes.

KIRO 7’s Deedee Sun asked state lawmakers about the issue and what they’re doing to help put a stop to the cycle.

“There’s a need to take a critical look at how to make our sentencing system more effective,” said Rep. Roger Goodman (D) of Washington’s 45th District.

He chairs the House Safety Committee and is part of the state’s sentencing task force that’s working on solutions.

Ideas on the table include changing sentencing guidelines, which dictates how long someone spends in prison for certain crimes.

They’re also finding new ways to monitor offenders once they’re released.

“There are big recommended changes,” said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, is Goodman’s counterpart in the State Senate and chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

“Oh, absolutely. I think that there’s a cycle of repeat offense that’s largely spurred by the perception in the mind of those folks that there is going to be no consequence for them,” Pedersen said.

The state sentencing system hasn’t seen real comprehensive reform since 1981 since the system was created.

But now, it’s about to happen.

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“What do you see as the biggest change that’s coming in the next year or two as far as what the state is doing to hold criminals accountable,” KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked Goodman.

“That’s a tough question. In the immediate term, we want to focus on supervising people who get out of prisons so they don’t recommit offenses,” Goodman said.

“Someone who gets out of prison, who has committed a violent offense and is at high risk to commit another offense, needs to be supervised very closely so they don’t offend again,” he said.

The task force has also recommended getting mental health evaluation on site in local courts.

“We want to provide funding and other tools to provide better treatment and evaluation so they’re not going — a revolving door in and out of the criminal system,” Goodman said.

McComb-Buehler hopes lawmakers will keep her — and other victims stories in mind – as they make major changes.

“So another family doesn’t have this happen,” she said.

Written by Deedee Sun

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