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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."

In A State Without Parole, A Push For A Second Look And A Second Chance

Thomas Hawk
Flickr -

Washington state abolished parole more than 30 years ago. Now, there’s a push by some inmate advocates to bring parole back. They had a chance to make their case Tuesday before a panel of state lawmakers.

Ardell Shaw spent 14 years in prison as a repeat offender.

“I’ve been out two-and-a-half years and I spent my whole life committing crimes from juvenile on up, Shaw said. “I changed my life because I want to change. It took 14 years for me to learn.”

Shaw told the House Public Safety Committee that more prison inmates deserve a second chance at freedom.

“We can just lock people up and throw away the key,” Shaw said. “That’s not working. That’s not working.”

Shaw noted that African Americans make up about 4 percent of Washington’s population, but nearly 20 percent of the state’s prison population.

He and others made the case for what they call a “second chance” law. The state would create a new parole board that includes former prisoners and members of communities of color most impacted by incarceration. Inmates would get an automatic parole review after serving 15 years.

“We are looking at a second chance not just for individuals, we’re looking for a second chance for our system to get it right,” said Senait Brown from Seattle King County NAACP.

But how can a parole board know if someone is really reformed? That was the question posed by Republican Brad Klippert who is also a police officer.

“And of course that’s our fear is that they would be released and commit another heinous crime and then we go, ‘what have we done?’” Klippert said.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg testified in favor of another proposal to give three-strikes offenders serving life without parole a “second look” after 20 years.

“If we don’t do that then the only way out is to die,” Satterberg said.

Or, he added, to convince the governor to grant them clemency.

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."