Ericksen joins Senate Republican Caucus in protest against mass release of convicted felons

Plan violates Washington constitution, Republicans warn — state could face liability for new crimes

— Ericksen among 21 Republicans signing formal letter of protest

— Violates requirements of “Crime Victims Bill of Rights” in constitution

— Crime victims must be notified, be given opportunity to speak against releases

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Doug Ericksen has joined the Senate Republican Caucus in urging Gov. Jay Inslee to rethink his plan to release some 1,167 prison inmates into the streets. All Senate Republicans signed a letter to Inslee Friday that notes a major problem with the idea. It’s illegal.

Inslee is responding to a state Supreme Court order that the state take “all necessary steps” to protect prison inmates from the spread of COVID-19. The court didn’t tell Inslee how to do it, however, and the mass release of prisoners is the governor’s idea.

In a formal letter delivered to the governor’s office Friday, Senate Republicans put the governor on notice that the plan violates the state constitution. They warn that the state could be on the hook for any new crimes committed by inmates who are improperly released. They also note the state has other options that do not threaten public safety.

The letter notes that Inslee is planning to release prisoners without notifying crime victims or their families, meaning they will have no opportunity to protest. This violates a provision of the Washington constitution passed by an overwhelming 78 percent vote of the people in 1989. Article I, Section 35 of the constitution, known as the “Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights,” requires that crime victims be notified of every proceeding relevant to their case, and that they be given the opportunity to speak when inmate releases are considered.

The letter asks Inslee to explain the legal authority under which he proposes to ignore the requirements of the Washington constitution.

It also notes that the state has other options that do not require the release of prison inmates. These include the expansion of work-release programs, the use of portable facilities, and the transfer of prisoners to the Maple Lane facility in Thurston County. Maple Lane is particularly well-suited for isolation and quarantine, because it has the capacity to house the prisoners and because Corrections’ central pharmacy is located at the site.

The letter appears below: