To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Ruth Utnage, I am the creator of HumanMe.org, a writing platform that showcases the voices of some of Washington’s most reformed formerly and currently incarcerated with the vision of becoming the premiere organization for mentorship and leadership development within some of Washington’s most marginalized communities. In addition, I am transgendered and currently incarcerated with only a few short weeks left of my incarceration.
I write today, audaciously, with the hope of having a sincere and meaningful dialogue that surpasses political party lines, rises above the fear of change, and sparks the healing fire of progress.
As someone who has been given an indeterminate sentence of Lifetime supervision I have no way to show my rehabilitation. No matter how well I do I will always be subject to the discretion of a Community Corrections Officer who may or may not understand “Legislative Intent”. There is no pathway to redemption. For those that do not have this sentence and will someday be free of community supervision they also do not have a formal pathway to redemption. Washington State, in all its progressive ideals, practices the belief that once you have done something you will always be that, Washington State does not recognize a person’s capacity to *change*.
Sociological and Criminological scientists have been researching criminal desistance for sometime and have some fascinating research on what influences a person to *stop* committing crime. Yet, this research is ignored almost entirely in favor of old wives tales and tabloid mantras. It is a fact that some people rehabilitate themselves despite the term rehabilitation being almost completely undefined by our government- the very system that imposes “correction” has no definition for what “corrected” even means or looks like!
I think we can all agree that any amount of recidivism is too high. Even if Washington State has the lowest recidivism rates among the formerly incarcerated, this is too much. What if we could move the needle even further? Let’s do some basic math (don’t worry, I’ll do it for us!).
Let’s say the current recidivism rate is 30%. If there are 15,000 individuals who are formerly incarcerated and our recidivism rate is *only* 30%, that’s 4,500 new victims. What if we could drop that number by 500 or 1000 or more by making some simple adjustments, breathing a little hope into someone’s life by recognizing their rehabilitation. By giving them a process to work that defines their change, that formerly recognizes that change. Something that sets them apart from someone who did no work to change? Something like a positive reward system that is formal?
It could be that simple. 500 less victims per year. Think about it. Nothing goes away right now, the criminal justice system isn’t completely overhauled (though, we all know it needs it!). It involves a judge or community based board (such as the Community Corrections Board – CCB- or another board) being petitioned and upon the petitioner’s providing proof of the requirements that governing body granting the petitioner a certificate of rehabilitation that gives the formerly incarcerated something to show the community (employer’s, neighbors, landlords) that they are different.
Of course, this wouldn’t grant someone convicted of a sex offense access to employment that is currently restricted, such as positions of authority over children, but it could give an appropriate employer a little assurance that *this* one is different, *this* one worked harder than others. Eventually leading the individual off the indeterminate sentence structure. Just food for thought. Change is possible. Even for the formerly incarcerated.
I urge you to at least have a conversation, a conversation with me. I am sure we will all walk away enriched.
Ruth A. Utnage