Letter to the Editor: Offenders should not be punished for juvenile records



I would like to support the House Bill 1324 bill, which passed recently to include offenders that are awaiting trial and also for those that are currently serving a sentence that is based on points derived from their non-violent juvenile records.

Chelsea Moore, ACLU Washington’s smart justice policy expert, said the use of juvenile judgments in adult sentences can be traced back to the racist “superpredator” myth. “That was a theory developed by a professor at Princeton that basically said that some children are

inherently violent and need to be locked up and have the key thrown away,” Moore said. “The theory was racially coded, and was mostly directed at young Black boys. Ironically, the professor who developed the theory has since disowned it and apologized, but much of the legislation that was enacted because of this bad science has stuck around.”

Research done by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network revealed that upward of 90% of incarcerated youth have reported some type of trauma; 70% have a mental health disorder; and at least 30% have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After hearing this logistical concern, ACLU Washington worked with the Washington State Superior Court Judges’ Association and its data analyst, and came to an agreement that the retroactive component of the bill would impact 809 to 1,437 people.

“Based on these numbers, Judge O’Donnell and the SCJA have come to neutral[ity] on the bill — which is a huge win,” Moore said. “This number is a manageable number for the courts.”

When the bill reached the Senate, it was amended to apply only to future cases. The Senate and House will need to work out the differences before they can pass the measure to the governor.

Moore called the Senate change devastating.

“The Legislature is acknowledging that this practice is wrong, that we’ve been doing the wrong thing for the last 25 years and causing grave harm to young people, and in particular, young Indigenous people and young Black people,” Moore said. “Yet, while they’re willing to acknowledge this, they’re not willing to take accountability for those wrongs by looking back and redressing the harm for the people who have already been hurt by this bad policy.”

She said that with this change, people will be sitting in prison, in some cases for additional decades, because of enhanced sentences that no longer exist. Please fight for the injustice of this and right our wrong.

Amber Martinell

Battle Ground