April 22, 2007 in City

Bill aiming to cut recidivism passes

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – The Washington House gave strong approval Saturday night to legislation to deal with the chronic problem of ex-convicts who commit new crimes.

The measure had easily passed the Senate but was held up in the House as Republican critics assailed it as a weak-kneed attempt to rehabilitate inmates and overlook their post-release return to crime.

But supporters, mostly Democrats, said the reform package gets at the root causes of repeat crime – drug and alcohol problems, lack of education, poor job skills and inadequate community supervision and support.

The bill cleared the House 64-33 – a strong vote, but a far cry from the nearly unanimous vote the Senate’s similar legislation got twice before in this session.

The plan, strongly backed by the governor, returned to the Senate for approval of a relatively minor House amendment before adjournment on Sunday.

House Democrats put the brakes on the original Senate bill after minority Republicans circulated a campaign-style “alert” about attempts to put felons’ rights and privileges ahead of regular families and victims.

The Senate narrowed its initial bill somewhat and passed the measure a second time on Friday. Gov. Chris Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, the Senate’s bipartisan co-sponsors and a bevy of supporters lobbied hard for the House vote.

Opponents didn’t object to giving education, drug treatment and other help behind bars, but said the bill doesn’t hold ex-cons accountable enough for their repeat crimes once they’re back on the street. Better supervision is critical, they said.

But Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, and a parade of backers said the bill is a bold attempt to halt the cycle of crime by fixing inmates’ problems and helping them re-enter society without further crime.

The bill passed with all but four of the 62 Democrats in favor. Most Republicans were opposed.

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