The bill would require courts to fill out a standardized work sheet that accompanies offenders to prison, in hopes of avoiding the errors, poor handwriting and other problems that have led to inaccurate sentences.
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are offering a simple fix they hope will avoid the errors, poor handwriting and other problems that have led to inaccurate prison and community-supervision sentences for offenders.
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, has sponsored a bill that would require courts to fill out a standardized work sheet that accompanies offenders to prison. House Bill 1680 is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee, which Goodman chairs, at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Corrections officials acknowledged in autumn that, because of a variety of reasons, there are likely offenders in custody who have “disputable” release dates.
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Offenders now enter the system with what’s known as a judgment and sentencing order. The state Department of Corrections (DOC) receives that document from the courts in each county, which spells out the details of an individual’s sentence.
Corrections staff enter the information into a database that calculates and tracks the sentences.
But the judgment and sentencing orders sometimes come with illegible handwriting, mathematical errors or sentences that don’t follow state law.
Making things more complicated are Washington’s complex sentencing laws, and the fact that many counties have their own unique judgment and sentencing forms — meaning corrections staffers deal with all types of documents.
When DOC staffers have questions about an offender’s sentence, they ask county prosecutors for clarification — and often don’t hear back.
DOC has said it got no response to more than half the 640 clarification letters the agency sent to county prosecutors in 2015.
In those situations, corrections staff must essentially guess at what they think a court wanted the sentence to be for those offenders.
Goodman’s bill, HB 1680 would direct DOC to work with the state Administrative Office of the Courts to put together a work sheet that includes the basic factors needed to correctly compute a sentence.
The work sheet would be filled out by the courts and would accompany the judgment and sentencing forms, and theoretically allow an easier — and more standard way — for corrections staffers to determine accurate prison sentences.
With the work sheet, “The information on them (the documents) will be more comprehensible,” Goodman said.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick and ranking Republican on the committee, has also signed on as a co-sponsor.
“We want to make sure we get it right,” Klippert said.