Ensuring Social Justice
Criminal Justice

Address the impact of systemic racism and advocate for a criminal justice system that is equitable, transparent, and evidence-based.


Issue Team Chair: Deb Carstens, dcarstens@lwvwa.org(206) 295-9529
 DOWNLOAD the Criminal Justice Issue Paper
Interested in getting involved with this topic? Click here! 

Right Now in Criminal Justice

This year opened our eyes to the need for widespread police reform. The League of Women Voters of the United States acknowledged the necessity of addressing this issue with a resolution passed at the national convention calling for members to advocate “against systemic racism in the justice system and, at a minimum, for preventing excessive force and brutality by law enforcement.” Police reform will be a top priority for the 2021 Legislature, and legislators are introducing bills in a number of different areas including accountability for misconduct and permissible police tactics.

Other issues to be addressed this year include treating substance use disorders as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, automatically restoring the right to vote to people who have been released from prison, and to abolish the death penalty.

Action Alert

SB 5476 Decriminalizes possession of personal use amounts of specified drugs and authorizes referral of those possessing personal use amounts to a forensic navigator for evaluation and services.

Status On April 10 the Senate Ways & Means Committee referred SB 5476 to the Rules Committee without recommendation.

Action Alert In State v. Blake, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state law criminalizing possession of controlled substances is unconstitutional. That ruling gives the legislature the opportunity to adopt a new approach to substance use disorders—once that is centered in public health, not arrest and incarceration. SB 5476 is a positive step in this direction and will ensure that we don’t end up with a patchwork of local laws that will just take us back to the failed war on drugs. Ask your state senator to vote yes.


Bills the League Supports

HB 1044 Recognizing that postsecondary education in prisons improves safety and decreases recidivism, this bill expands opportunities for such education and requires the Department of Corrections to accommodate those with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and cognitive impairments.

 Status  HB 1044 passed the Senate 28-20 on April 9.

HB 1054 Places restrictions on the use of certain tactics and equipment used by peace officers and law enforcement agencies including neck restraints and choke holds, military equipment, and vehicular pursuits.

 Status HB 1054 passed the Senate 27-22 on April 6.


HB 1078 Automatically restores the right to vote for all people who are out of prison.

 Passed! HB 1078 was signed by the Governor on April 7.


HB 1090 Bans private prisons, subject to limited exceptions, and provides that private detention facilities (i.e., the Northwest Detention Center) operating pursuant to a valid contract may remain in operation for the duration of that contract but not thereafter.


 Passed!  HB 1090 was delivered to the governor for signature on April 8.

HB 1140 Requires law enforcement to provide juveniles with access to an attorney before waiver of the juvenile’s constitutional rights.

 Status  HB 1140 was placed on second reading by the Senate Rules Committee on April 10.


HB 1267 Creates an office of independent investigations to conduct investigations of use of force by law enforcement officers.

 Status HB 1267 passed the Senate 27-22 on April 9.


HB 1310 Adopts a statewide de-escalation standard and limits the use of deadly force only as a last resort when necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or another person.

 Status HB 1310 passed the Senate 26-23 on April 10.


SB 5051 Promotes public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system by (1) improving the process to decertify peace and corrections officers who have engaged in serious misconduct, (2) requiring law enforcement agencies to report misconduct to the Criminal Justice Training Commission, and (3) requiring a public database containing information about all conduct investigated by the CJTC.

 Status SB 5051 passed the House 54-43 on April 7.


SB 5066 Imposes a duty on peace officers to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force and requires officers who observe misconduct to report that misconduct to a supervisor.

 Status SB 5066 passed the House 71-27 on April 7.

SB 5259 Establishes an advisory group to assist the Attorney General’s office in designing a program to collect, report, and publish information about use of force and other public interactions.

 Status SB 5259 passed the House 97-1 on April 6.



Bills the League Opposes

SB 5226 End debt-based driver’s license suspensions (DWLS3) from unpaid fines and fees for civil moving violations which disproportionately impact people in poverty, people of color, and young adults. Note: LWVWA supported this bill in its original form but no longer supports the bill in its amended form because the amended bill does not adequately address the issue of penalizing people for “driving while poor.”

 Status  SB 5226 passed the House 80-17 on April 10.



Bills the League Supports That Missed the Cutoff

Note: It is possible for some of these bills to be resurrected through various procedural mechanisms.


HB 1082 Companion bill to SB 5051:, which is moving forward.

HB 1092 Companion bill to SB 5259, which is moving forward.


HB 1202 Creates a private right of action for people harmed by misconduct, enables police departments to be held liable for negligently hiring, training, supervising, or disciplining officers involved in misconduct, and limits the use of the qualified immunity defense.


 Status HB 1202 was returned to the Rules Committee for a second reading on March 10.


HB 1282 Restores Washington’s earned time accrual rate to 33% for all incarcerated individuals, ensuring that people are able to earn time off their sentences through participation in education, employment, and rehabilitative programming so that they are better prepared to succeed upon reentry into the community.

 Status HB 1282 was heard in the House Committee on Appropriations on March 15.


HB 1312/SB 5413 Places restrictions on the use of solitary confinement, including limiting its use to situations in which there is a substantial risk of immediate harm and less restrictive interventions would be insufficient to reduce this risk.


 Status HB 1312 was referred to the House Public Safety Committee on Jan. 20. SB 5413 was heard in the Senate Human Services, Reentry and Rehabilitation Committee on Feb. 9. Neither bill passed out of committee by the Feb. 15 deadline.


HB 1344 Allows anyone given a 15+ year sentence before the age of 25 to go before the indeterminate sentence review board to seek a reduction in their sentence (increases current age limit from 18 to 25).


 Status HB 1344 was scheduled for executive session in the House Public Safety Committee on Feb. 15, but no action was taken.


HB 1413 Promotes fair and proportional sentencing and advances racial equity by prohibiting the use of juvenile crimes to automatically give people longer sentences as adults.


 Status  HB 1413 was referred to Rules 2 Review on Feb. 15.


HB 1499 The Pathways to Recovery Act (1) increases funding for substance use disorder treatment and recovery programs, (2) adopts a public health-based approach by eliminating penalties for personal use drug offenses and connecting people with services to address the root causes of their substance use disorder, and (3) expands resources for statewide education about substance use.


 Status HB 1499 was referred to the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 15.


SB 5047 Abolishes the death penalty in response to the Washington State Supreme Court decision in State v. Gregory recognizing that the death penalty is racially biased and unconstitutional.


 Status SB 5047 was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Jan. 11. It did not pass out of committee by the Feb. 15 deadline.

SB 5086 Companion bill to HB 1078, which is moving forward.



SB 5134
Prohibits collective bargaining agreements covering law enforcement officers from including certain provisions related to discipline and oversight.


 Status SB 5134 was heard in the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee on Jan. 14. It did not pass out of committee by the Feb. 15 deadline.

SB 5285 Companion bill to HB 1282, which is moving forward.


How To Be Involved
  • Stay in contact with your legislators.
  • Reply to Action Alerts.
  • Subscribe to the LWVWA Legislative newsletter so that you receive it weekly on Sundays during the session starting Jan. 10, 2021 and ending with a wrap up in May 2021.
  • Contact the Criminal Justice Issue Chair at dcarstens@lwvwa.org and ask to join the LWVWA Criminal Justice Google Group.

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