Legislation passed March 5 by the Senate would create a mental health sentencing alternative, which allows a sentencing court discretion and victim input on whether a mental health sentencing alternative should be imposed.
“We are not doing well by individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system,” Nobles said. “By addressing the root causes of some criminal behaviors, such as behavioral health concerns, this bill promotes and improves public safety and supports the long-term health of individuals convicted of crimes where mental health, cognitive issues, or brain injuries are a factor.”
SB 5293, sponsored by Sen. T’wina Nobles (D-Fircrest), is based on recommendations from a Criminal Sentencing Task Force established by the Legislature in 2019. The task force was directed to review state sentencing laws and make recommendations to the Legislature. One of the recommendations calls for establishing a mental health sentencing alternative.
As the current law stands, Washington limits community supervision to persons who are classified high risk except for persons who receive sentencing alternatives. Typically, a judge must impose a sentence within the standard range for the offense unless the court finds substantial and compelling reasons to impose an exceptional sentence outside the standard range.
“Instead of criminalizing community members with serious mental illnesses, we need to treat them,” said Nobles. A serious mental illness is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in a serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with major life activities.
Persons in community custody are supervised by community corrections officers instead of being sentenced to confinement. These persons may also be required to participate in form of treatment.
The bill passed unanimously by the Senate and will now be considered by the House.