Proposed Conviction Review legislation in the Washington State Senate, Letter to Senator Jeannie Darneille

I recently sent an email to Senator Jeannie Darneille supporting the establishment of a process that would allow for release of rehabilitated prisoners after 15 years of incarceration. I hope this bill passes and I also hope it applies to all offenders, regardless of the crime committed. Below is the letter outlining my reasons:

Dear Senator Darneille,

As the director of Innocence International (est. 2004 by the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter), I represent Atif Rafay and, by extension, Sebastian Burns, both incarcerated at the Monroe Correctional Complex. I was heartened to learn that you are introducing a bill that would establish a Post Conviction Review Process for everyone who has served 15 years in the WADOC. Even now, a conviction in the State of Washington carries no motivation for good behavior. Since I represent people whom we think are innocent, these unyielding sentences multiply the injustice already suffered by the wrongly convicted.

 

One of the strongest laws in nature is the law of averages. Because the legal system is imperfect, a certain percentage of convictions is going to be in error. A New Yorker article by Ariel Levy put the figure at 5%. While we had thought it was more like 1 and 1/2%, we had not taken plea bargains into consideration. Many prison inmates, at the behest of their lawyers, have taken plea bargains even though they are innocent of the crime. Five percent of all prison inmates represents over 100,000 Americans languishing in prison for a crime someone else has committed. The system, run by flawed human beings, must produce error. By making it impossible for that group to get early release, the State of Washington is denying and defying the law of averages. People who administer the law must do it with a certain amount of humility. The idea to move the Board out of the DOC and place it in the governor’s office makes a great deal of sense.

 

Of course, the saddest part is that some prisoners, guilty or not, no longer need to be in prison. While we fully believe that Mr. Rafay could not nor did commit the heinous crime for which he was convicted, we also know that he is a fine individual who poses no threat to society. So thank you for giving hope to all of us who work year in and year out for justice and the light of truth. No justice system should engender the kind of hopelessness and despair that now exists in Washington.

 

All the best to you in making this new legislation a reality.

Yours truly,

Ken Klonsky

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About ken

I am a former Toronto teacher and writer now living in Vancouver. I work with Dr. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, with whom I published Eye of the Hurricane: My path from Darkness to Freedom (Chicago review Press, 2011), as Director of Media Relations and as an advocate for wrongly convicted prisoners. Other publication credits include Songs of Aging Children (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992) a book of short stories about troubled youth, and Taking Steam, a play co-authored with the late Brian Shein, staged at New York's Jewish Repertory Theatre and Toronto in 1983. Life Without (Quattro Books, 2012) is a novella about a New York cab driver wrongly convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Gary Geddes (Lt. Governor's Award for Literary Excellence) described it as "one of the most brilliant and harrowing short novels I've read since I went on a John Hawkes binge."

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