Satterberg argues for criminal justice reform

By Olivia Sullivan and Mike Simpson - Staff Reporters

The King County prosecuting attorney wants to change the criminal justice system.  

Daniel Satterberg was elected to prosecuting attorney in 2007 after serving as chief of staff in the prosecuting attorney's office for 17 years.  The South King County native, has been in the special assault unit, drug unit, and was gang prosecutor in 1988.

"There needs to be a change in the criminal justice system," Satterberg said.

Currently, felonies in Washington are down 41 percent since, but taxpayers pay 116 percent for criminal justice than in 1980, he said.

In Washington, African Americans are six times more likely to to prison than whites, he said.  This is racial disproportionately.

Prisons are at capacity with triple the amount of inmates since years ago, he said.

Satterberg presented a 10 point plan to decrease Washington's reliance on the criminal justice system.

-"We need to graduate more students," he said.

Three out of four inmates dropped out of high school, he said.

He presented a program called SCOPE, which is a "school to college pipeline" that provides education alternatives to expulsion.

"Every layer of education is like a protective blanket," Satterberg said. "They can't just kick kids out."

His second solution was an increase in mental health assistance.

Prison has become the default for severely mentally ill people since 95 percent of public psychiatric beds have been lost in the United States since 1955, he said.

An alternative program, Familiar Faces, spent $35 million connecting social health services with 1400 people with mentally ill people at risk for returning to jail.

Satterberg said alternatives to going to court for juveniles need to be supported.  

In the 180 program, over 400 youths have been diverted per year since 2011.

FIRS, another option, is an 8 to 10 week program designed as an alternative to the court system.

"We have to keep people out of the system," Satterberg said.

His fourth solution is a new approach to drugs.

He said he supports Washington's treatment of drug possession as a misdemeanor, as well as a harm reduction model for drug use.

These are sites where medical professionals supervise drug use.  The controversial program is celebrated by proponents for reducing the potential for HIV and Hepatitis, as well as reducing the amount of used needles that make their way into public streets.

"This is a public health emergency," Satterberg said.  "This would be a public health response."

He said he wants to expand clemency in Washington.

This is an executive power of the governor that can pardon incarcerated individuals.

He said he opposed the 3-strikes out law, which gave life sentences to third time convictions.

The law was widely criticized for giving a severe sentence for lower-profile crimes such as robbery.

Satterberg went to the Clemency and Pardon Board, and the governor to get 3-strikes out convicts out of prison.

He said another solution is to create and support vocational and educational programs in prison.

These are celebrated for decreasing chances for someone ending up in prison again.

He said he opposes Department of Corrections identification cards, which are issued to people upon release from prison.

This is a surefire way to get people back into prison because it runs a higher risk of closing the door to employment, he said.

Child support systems need to be supported by the state, Satterberg said.

These are programs that negotiate low monthly child support payments and connects former convicts with community college programs.

After prison, many tend to face accumulated child support bills with high interest rates.  

Meager employment prospects and few savings from $0.37 per hour prison jobs make it difficult for people to pay these bills, he said.

Another solution is violence prevention programs, Satterberg said.  

People need to understand the physiology of violence, he said.

Satterberg's final solution was to encourage the state to listen to victims.

Two out of three victims prefer softer rehabilitation tactics over punishment despite the fact that they are four times more likely to be victimized again, he said.

If public opinion were taken into account, confidence in the criminal justice system would increase, Satterberg said.

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