A Good Start to the New Year: Expanding Opportunities for Parental Diversion

 

 

A mother parenting and serving time for a violent crime with her son at the Washington Corrections Center for Women holiday event. Photo Credit: Maria Bryk Photography.

 

“Our love goes beyond bars.”

-T.Q. and M.L, Mothers at Washington Corrections Center for Women 

Advocates in Washington and Tennessee are providing an antidote to the terrible criminal justice efforts that the new year has brought us on the federal level. In Washington State, advocates today will be testifying to “Say yes to keeping families together” by supporting Senate Bill 5307.

SB 5307 is an effort to expand Washington State’s current alternative sentencing program which would allow to more parents to serve time in the community instead of behind bars. Specifically, the WA legislation will expand the law to allow more families stay together and reduce the negative affects of parent-child separation due to incarceration by:

•    Allowing parents to apply for consideration of the alternative regardless of crime

There is an assumption that a parent with a violent crime would be more likely to harm their children, whereas many people with violent crimes are actively parenting from prison. It makes no sense to leave them out. Also, we are not going to solve mass incarceration without supporting alternatives for people with violent crimes.

•    Making eligible all parents and caregivers not just primary custodians

Under a narrow reading, current law does not explicitly cover pregnant parents or parents whose partners were expecting at the time of sentencing. Nor does it explicitly include non-custodial parents with children in open adoptions, non-parental custody decrees, or guardianship. Further, low income individuals as well as LGBTQ families often have informal parenting relationships that may not be recognized or able to be proved under the current definition.

•    Lifting unnecessary barriers for immigrant families

Under current law Individuals with immigration detainers are ineligible. Immigration Customs Enforcement deportation detainer does not necessarily mean that an individual will be deported as they may have relief or what is called cancellation from removal.

For more information on actions advocates in Washington are taking can be found here.

Justice Strategies is concerned with bills that limit alternatives and parental diversion only to primary caretakers. Such bills unnecessarily leave out and do not value the contributions of non-custodial parents in the lives of their children. We will be watching and keeping folks up to date as these efforts move forward.

 

Lill M. Hewko

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