Eastern Washington Legislative Conference 2015: Raising Prophetic voices
People released from prison may serve ‘life sentences’
Layne Pavey, who founded “I Did the Time” to promote ex-offenders’ re-entry after incarceration, and Rachel Dolezal, president of Spokane NAACP, explored their perspectives on criminal justice in a workshop at the recent Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.
Of the 70 million Americans who have “done a crime and done the time,” Layne said many have taken responsibility and want to move forward with their lives, but are blocked by their past.
“People continue to judge them no matter what the crime or how long ago,” she said. “Many end up serving a ‘life sentence.’”
Layne, who earned a master’s degree in social work at Eastern Washington University and is a peer counselor and mental health clinician, organizes people disenfranchised as they try to follow values and the law, but may return to crime if they cannot find jobs.
Serving on the executive committee of Smart Justice Spokane, Layne helps people share personal stories to promote legislation to change policies.
Her experiences relate to several proposals before the state legislature.
Even though she’s white, middle-class, from the South Hill and had six years experience in sales, Layne applied for many types of jobs but was not hired.
People who have served time and are on track to contribute to society find it hard to find work, because job applications have a box to check if the applicant was ever convicted of a felony.
“Finally, I was hired because my father knew someone. White privilege helped me,” said Layne, who had studied with no guarantee she could use the degree.
The Fair Chance Act before the state legislature and the Smart Hiring Ordinance before the Spokane City Council require employers to look at qualifications, not throw applications away because the box is checked. It calls for case-by-case evaluation.
Employers can do criminal background checks. The box is still on applications for the police department and work with vulnerable people, Layne said.
“I was hired in private practice mental health because my boss liked my story. He saw that because I had ‘been there,’ I would likely understand and engage with people needing help in recovery,” she said.
Serving 20 months in prison for a nonviolent offense, she saw conditions in prison that are counterproductive to people using their time there to review their lives so they make sure they do not end up there again.
“We need to help people turn around when they leave prison,” she said. “The Fair Chance Act lets people tell how they have turned their lives around.”
Another bill is the Certification Restoration of Opportunity. Layne is a certified clinical social worker, but 84 licenses are denied to people with criminal backgrounds, such as real estate, cosmetology or bartending.
A third bill addresses Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs). When someone is sentenced, the court may set LFOs for restitution to a victim. LFOs are often so high most cannot make payments.
The 12 percent compounded interest begins to accrue the first day in prison. After four years, someone with a LFO of $4,000 may owe $20,000. A court can order the person to pay $150 a month regardless of ability to pay. Those who can’t pay are sent back to jail, costing taxpayers $140 a day, Layne said.
Under the LFO bill, the LFO can be waived unless there is a victim, the interest rate can drop, the amount must be fairly assessed, and a person cannot be put in jail for not paying.
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