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A Call to Abolish Determinate-Plus Sentencing in Washington

By December 1, 2022January 17th, 2023No Comments

Abstract: For certain incarcerated individuals who commit sex offenses, Washington State’s determinate-plus sentencing structure requires a showing of rehabilitation before release. This highly subjective “releasability” determination occurs after an individual has already served a standard sentence. A review of recent releasability determinations reveals sentences are often extended on arbitrary and inconsistent grounds—especially for individuals who face systemic challenges in prison due to their identity or condition. This Comment shows that the criteria to determine whether individuals are releasable is an incomplete picture of their actual experience in the carceral setting, using the distinct example of incarcerated individuals with mental illness. While mental illness and the likelihood of recidivism are not connected, mental illness negatively impacts individual release decisions, directly and indirectly. While a legal appeal exists for these determinations, that legal remedy is insufficient to provide true relief. This Comment argues that the state’s determinate-plus sentencing structure should be abolished to end the cycle of vulnerable incarcerated individuals receiving disparate and biased denials of release.

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