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WA prosecutor: Retroactive earned release bill gives ‘biggest benefit to worst offenders’

There are a number of bills being debated right now in Olympia that have raised concerns as it relates to public safety. One of them is House Bill 1282, which modifies earned release time provisions for prisoners. But it’s retroactive, meaning criminals, including those sentenced for using deadly weapons, would get out of jail faster.

Mary Robnett is the Pierce County prosecuting attorney who testified against this bill, and she joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to discuss why.

“Earned early release time — it’s also known as ‘good time’ — it’s a management tool for the Department of Corrections, so good behavior in prison can earn you earlier release. Right now, the rules are that people at the lower end of the crime spectrum — low-level crimes — can earn up to a third off their sentence in good time; serious violent offenders can earn up to 10% off their sentence with good time,” she said.

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“This bill proposes to make all earned early release, all good time, 33% across the board. And I’m fine with standardizing that and making it 33% across the board as long as it’s prospective,” she explained. “What I’m opposed to is changing the rules and making that retroactive so that offenders who have long since been in prison, serving sentences imposed by courts, suddenly get a windfall of one third off.”

As Jason noted, often there are those who end up pleading down to a potentially lighter sentence. But had a prosecutor known at the time that due to good behavior, the criminal could get out of prison a little bit earlier, they might not have offered that particular plea deal.

“Exactly,” Robnett responded. “In fact, the vast majority of cases are resolved with a negotiated plea deal, which means the prosecutor and the defense attorney arrive at a negotiated range, if not recommendation. And then the court — the Superior Court — knowing everything it can about the case, everything relevant about the character of the people involved — the case, the facts, the criminal history — with eyes wide open, knows what the sentence will be and what the potential good time will be.”

“So it’s kind of pulling the rug out from under crime victims who are involved, the prosecutors, and the courts,” she added.

Robnett says the bill as it is now could potentially be a dangerous one, particularly related to the retroactive aspect.

“There are many, many examples about why it could be a dangerous bill to pass as is, that is the retroactive aspect. And I have to stress again, I have no objections to this bill; one of the prime sponsors — Tarra Simmons — is well-meaning, and I do think there would be a benefit to standardizing this,” she said.

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“But the retroactive aspect is troubling. First of all, it gives the biggest benefit to the worst offenders,” she said. “In other words, many offenders in Department of Corrections already earn a third off if they’ve committed nonviolent offenses. But the violent offenses get the sudden windfall, as I said, and it’s indiscriminate, it gives it across the board to everyone, without any regard to the public safety risk or a calculation of that on an individualized basis.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here

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