Submitted by Rosalind Brazel, Washington Community Action Network
A legislative forum in Tacoma Monday was highlighted by stories from mothers, spouses, and sisters of people in prison who spoke of the impact of mass incarceration on their families. Mass incarceration has severe impacts on Pierce County because it’s where 60% of the state’s convictions originate. One mother told of the financial and emotional burden that comes with supporting her imprisoned son.
“My son was sentenced to 99 years in prison a week after his 18th birthday and he is not the same person he was,” said Ginny Parham. “It costs me about $200 for a trailer visit, which is money I can barely afford.”
The forum was moderated via telephone by Parham’s son, Willie Nobles, a man who is serving a life sentence in Clallam Bay Corrections Center. Nobles is the treasurer of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus and the Vice-President of TEACH, a prisoner-led college.
“Mass incarceration is a major problem in this country, and particularly bad in the state of Washington,” said Nobles over the phone. “This movement for a community review board needs to be a statement. Together we can conquer all oppression.”
In Washington, since the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981, most people with sentences of 15 years to life have no possibility of early release regardless of their behavior. These long-term sentences are starkly racialized: Black people are 4% of the state’s population, but 28% of people with sentences of 15 years to life.
Speakers at the forum advocated for a parole system to be re-introduced in Washington state in the form of a Community Review Board. The board would be made up of diverse community members and would allow everyone to be evaluated after 15 years of prison for the possibility of early release. Statistics show recidivism decreases dramatically after 15 years or more are served.
A call of hands to be raised for those who have family or loved ones in prison led to nearly every hand being raised in the room. Many attendees were overcome with emotion when they shared the names and photos of those loved ones who are currently behind bars.
“My youngest son, my baby, they gave him 17 years. They packed him with more and more charges,” said Glenda Clark. “I work two jobs to support him. I promised him I would be there so I’ve been doing it. I know us coming together as a community will help get them released; we just need to keep fighting.”
The event, held at the People’s Community Center in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, was attended by legislators and legislative aids. Three legislators have pledged to support a proposed policy for a Community Review Board including Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Sen. Jeannie Darneille and Rep. Noel Frame.
Another forum will take place on August 13 at Evergreen College, Tacoma campus.