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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Three-Strikes Offenders Deserve A 'Second Look' Says Sentencing Commission

Rennett Stowe
Flickr -

Three-strikes offenders serving life in prison without the possibility of parole should get a “second look.” That’s the position of Washington’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

It voted Friday to recommend a new review process for these prison inmates.

This is a non-binding proposal to the Washington Legislature. It basically says three-strikes inmates should be able to petition for early release after 20 years behind bars. Aggravated murderers would not qualify. A special “Second Look Review Board” would consider the petitions.

Dave Boerner chairs the Sentencing Commission. He said research has shown as inmates age, their chances of committing new crimes diminishes.

“And so the judgment was we should take an individualized look at these cases,” Boerner said. “This is not an automatic release provision whatsoever.”

Conservative talk show host and former gubernatorial candidate John Carlson sponsored Washington’s three-strikes initiative in 1993. He opposes the second-look proposal, saying, “I don’t think the people of Washington want to see three-strikes watered down.”

Carlson noted current law allows them to apply to the governor for clemency. In fact, in 2008 Carlson testified before Washington’s Clemency and Pardons Board on behalf of three-strikes offender Stevan Dozier who was ultimately granted release.

Carlson said the governor, not an unelected board should be making these decisions. But others argue the clemency system is not robust enough to review all the cases that deserve a second look.

Washington has more than 250 three-strikes offenders.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."