A Platform for Transformative Policies in the King County Criminal Legal System
The current policies of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office do not promote community “safety”; especially as it pertains to those communities most impacted by racial and economic disproportionality in the criminal legal system. Currently “public safety” is defined by rates of arrest, convictions, and “criminal activity” as defined by law. We believe measuring “public safety” by the health and thriving of marginalized communities is a better standard and will help us better invest in strategies that actually keep us all safer and healthier.
A county’s budget is a moral document. What we invest in is what we value! We should divert resources towards meeting the needs of marginalized communities, as opposed to criminalizing them. These sorts of investments will increase the number of families with stable housing and sustainable jobs, increase participation in educational and employment opportunities, and increase access to healthcare, mental health, and addiction services. This will inevitably improve the overall health of marginalized families and communities and therein lower rates of arrest, court involvement, convictions, and “criminal activity.”
The King County criminal legal system disparately impacts communities of color, LGBTQIA+ communities, and economically disenfranchised communities. King County incarcerates youth of color at 5.6 times the rate of white youth. These impacts are detrimental to our communities and perpetuate historical trauma and oppression through systems and institutions.
We acknowledge that the criminal legal system is flawed and plagued with racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. As a result even a “progressive” prosecutor still works within a problematic system. A “progressive” prosecutor does important work to mitigate systemic harm and oppression, but is not in and of itself transformation of the system. A “progressive” prosecutor implementing transformative policies is a step in a more just direction.
We need a King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office that is driven by what we know actually helps communities thrive and be safer rather than conviction rates. This platform provides clear tangible policies KCPAO can implement which will help King County divest from criminalization and invest in strategies to promote safety for all.
Acknowledge there is an over-representation of Black, Latinx and Native people in the criminal legal system that stems from institutionalized racism in the legal system and connected systems.
End Coercive Plea Bargaining
Most people adjudicated in the criminal legal system waive their right to a trial and most protections therein--including the right to appeal. The vast majority of felony convictions are the result of plea bargains. To induce defendants to plead, prosecutors often threaten “the trial penalty.” “The trial penalty” is when prosecutors make it known that a defendant will face more serious charges and harsher sentences if they choose to fight the case in court and are convicted. While plea bargaining leads to expedited case resolution, it also increases the likelihood that people plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. Additionally, it increases the likelihood that those suffering from poverty, mental illness and/or addiction will be criminalized rather than cared for and supported. Plea bargaining also exacerbates racial disproportionality in the criminal legal system. Trial is a cornerstone of the criminal legal system. Prosecutors should not be using plea bargains to frighten people of exercising their right to trial.
Vacate ALL Marijuana Felony Convictions
Marijuana is now legal in the state of Washington. While some--mostly Black, Latinx, and Native peoples--are strapped with felony conviction which prevent them from accessing housing, education and employment opportunities, others, predominantly white men, are now making large amounts of money in the cannabis industry. In order to create equity and opportunity for all it is essential that King County move to vacate all felony marijuana convictions.
Decline to Prosecute Charges that Criminalize but Do Not Promote Safety
Criminalizing poverty, mental illness, and/or addiction makes us less safe. When people are convicted of crimes resulting from poverty, mental illness and/or addiction they are strapped with a criminal record which prevents them from accessing essential services, education, employment, and housing. They also suffer an immense amount of trauma through the criminal legal system and any resulting incarceration. These factors only serve to increase the likelihood of recidivism. Instead of criminalizing people we should invest resources to address the underlying/root causes of poverty, mental illness, and addiction. By ensuring everyone has access to housing, healthcare, education, and employment we can increase the number of healthy families and communities; therefore decreasing the likelihood of crime.
Consider the Immigration Consequences of Arrest and Conviction
Any contact with the criminal legal system can result in deportation; including stops and arrests by police officers. Undocumented communities may be brought to the attention of immigration authorities, while “legal” residents may face deportation after a conviction or encounter which jeopardizes their status. The King County Prosecutor has the authority to instruct KCPAO to 1) not collude in any way with the federal government and 2) to consider deportation as a collateral consequence when plea bargaining.
End Destructive Prosecutorial Practices that Target Youth
Decline to prosecute school-related offenses and divert resources to restorative and transformative practices tailored to the needs of youth engaging in or impacted by violence.
Declination and Automatic Declination. Stop the use of declination to adult court. Where declination is required by law work with community members to lobby the legislature to end the practice. Advocate that youth be returned to juvenile court in all cases. Auto-Decline is tied to the “super predator myth” and the failed war on drugs. It is a racist practice which contributes to over-representation of Black, Latinx, and Native youth in the adult system. Most of the juveniles prosecuted as adults in King County are Black males. This practice sets youth up to recidivate and does not promote restorative justice nor does it increase public safety.
Commit to no youth being held in adult facilities.
Commit to ending juvenile detention in King County.
End Cash Bail Without For-Profit Replacements
Commit to not pursue cash bail for any charge, while also avoiding the overuse of electronic monitoring and other for-profit programs that enrich corporations while creating open air incarceration.
Do not increase pre-trial detention in lieu of cash bail options.
Create explicit benchmarks for significantly reducing the the number of people incarcerated pre-trial and reducing racial disparity in pretrial incarceration rates, the use of electronic monitoring, and other strict supervision and surveillance programs
Any risk assessment tools used in lieu of bail cannot rely on racially biased data, must actively work to reduce racial and economic disparities in pretrial incarceration and supervision, and must be directly overseen in design, validation and implementation by a community board comprised of independent data scientists, survivor advocates, criminal justice stakeholders, and people impacted by mass incarceration.
Commit to Just Outcomes for Victims of Police Brutality
Over the past year King County has been working towards improving the inquest process; including providing representation for families who have been the victims of police brutality. Increasing the accessibility of this process for grieving families and survivors of police brutality is essential for the pursuit of justice.
Make effective use of the internal Brady list of officers with demonstrated records of misconduct, including racial bias, and prohibit prosecutors from working with officers on the list.
Oppose the Building of the New Youth Jail & Support Policies for Zero Youth Detention
Incarcerating youth does not make us safer. In fact, incarcerating youth is a public health travesty. Youth who experience incarceration are more likely to recidivate and possibly commit a violent offense later. Furthermore, continuing to invest in youth incarceration only further perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline and promotes family disunification. We should divest from the current juvenile criminal legal system and instead invest community-based and developed strategies which address the undo the root causes of poverty and the impact of white supremacy and capitalism upon marginalized communities.
Decrease the Amount of Time People Spend on Probation (Under State Surveillance)
Supervision and surveillance not only represents a huge liability to the supervising agency or body, but it also increases the likelihood that a person on supervision will recidivate. The role of probation is not to provide services and resources which aid a person in staying healthy and free. Rather, the role of probation is the catch people when they violate the terms of probation. This sort of supervision and surveillance does not make us safer. In fact, the longer a person stays on supervision the harder it is for them to find housing, employment and educational opportunities. Without these opportunities a person is more likely to resort to negative behaviors to survive and cope and therein more likely to recidivate. Furthermore, the terms of probation and the requirements of supervision can represent a significant time and travel commitment; preventing person from following through on important responsibility at home, at school or at work.
Decriminalize Sex Work
Decriminalization protects sex workers, reduces instances of STDS, abuse and sexual assault while curbing sex trafficking and need for risk-laden street prostitution. More broadly, it is also fiscally more responsible decreasing the cost of enforcement.
In decriminalizing the County should work with sex workers, advocates, and communities to develop a safer more regulated industry. This has the potential, if in done in relationship with sex workers, to increase safety, create tax revenue, and ensure the regulations meet the needs of sex workers first and foremost.
Support Legislation for Parole and Review of Life Sentences in Washington State
Work with community and those held in confinement to create a pathways for parole.
Support bills to create pathways to parole for geriatrics held in confinement.
Support efforts to obtain review of cases, and freedom therein, for juvenile lifers.
Support Community-Based Strategies for Divestment from the Criminal Legal Systems and Investment in Public Health Strategies for Community Defined Safety and Health