Michael Holmberg

David’s Heart Part VI – By Michael Holmberg

Transition and Release

Transition and release is primarily driven by the classification process. I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss the process, how it can go wrong and how to initiate measures to ensure a successful transition and release.

The Classification Process

The legislature has required the WDOC develop a program designed to transition prisoners back to the community, allowing for sentence reduction. A prisoner’s sentence may be reduced for good conduct and good performance. Good Conduct Time (GCT) is awarded for obeying the rules, while Earned Time (ET) is awarded for good performance – successfully participating in a work, educational, or treatment program. [1] 

State law requires the WDOC conduct a classification hearing at least once in each twelve-month period, providing the prisoner a written report and evaluation explaining why he or she was granted or denied GCT or ET. [2] However, with the latest implementation of Washington One, we’ll see how things change for better, or worse. [3]

In addition to sentence reduction, classification is a management tool used by the department to assign prisoners to the least restrictive custody designation, resulting in a decrease in supervision, that is progressing from Closed to Medium, Medium to Long-term Minimum, Long-term Minimum to Camp and eventually Work Release. While promoting, along the way, participation in work, education, change and vocational programing, to address prisoner needs, leading to an increase in responsibility, with the goal of reentry into the community. [4]

The end result of the classification process is a successful transition and release, based on the procedures outlined in DOC 350.200 – Offender Transition and Release.

What Can Go Wrong

DOC 350.200 Policy (I) requires the WDOC manage prisoners with the goal of enhancing public safety by providing prisoners a program of release preparation to assist in a successful transition into the community. Sounds, good? However, despite the authorities referenced above, things don’t always go as planned. The following is an example of what can go wrong, if the Transition and Release process is not properly managed.

Mr. Beard [5] was residing at the Mc Neil Island Corrections Center with an ERD of January 21, 2008. Based on DOC 350.200 Directive (I)(D) [6] Mr. Beard’s Offender Release Plan (ORP) should have been submitted to the DOC County Field Office for assignment and investigation on or about July 20, 2007 – it wasn’t.

On September 7, 2007 Mr. Beard met with his assigned Classification Counselor, Mr. Cossett. Counselor Cossett refused to process Mr. Beard’s proposed release address for Snohomish County because it was not the county of origin – the county where the prisoner’s crime was committed.

Confused and somewhat dejected, Mr. Beard resubmitted the same address for Snohomish County after having been assigned a new counselor, Mr. Lewandowsky. Counselor Lewandowski explained to Mr. Beard that he would approve the out-of-county address if Mr. Beard could show the existence of one or more of the following factors: (1) result in a violation of court-ordered conditions (2) victim safety (3) negative influences (4) location of family, and/or (5) sponsors.[7]  Mr. Beard explained to Counselor Lewandowski that he wanted to release to Snohomish County because he had no family support in Pierce County and there were some old partners still in Pierce County who might be considered negative influences. So, Counselor Lewandowski approved the Snohomish County release address and forwarded Mr. Beard’s ORP to the Snohomish County Field Office (Field Office) for investigation and approval.

After several weeks of silence – not uncommon – Mr. Beard asked his counselor for a status update on his ORP. Counselor Lewandowski – on January 3, 2008 – contacted the Field Office for a status update on Mr. Beards ORP. Turns out the Assignment Officer received Mr. Beards ORP, but instead of assigning it to a Community Corrections Officer (CCO) for investigation, it was placed in an inactive file for some 60 days! Once the error was discovered, Mr. Beard was assigned to CCO John Campbell.

On January 4, 2008 CCO Campbell received a call from a Ms. Teri – she wanted to know why no one had contacted her to arrange for inspection of her fiance’s proposed release address. CCO Campbell asked for the name of Ms. Teri’s fiance and the address. CCO Campbell informed Ms. Teri that the address on Mr. Beard’s ORP was not the address Ms. Teri had just provided. So, CCO Campbell informed Ms. Teri that he could not investigate the new address until the old address was closed out. CCO Campbell then closed out Mr. Beard’s address, informing Ms. Teri that he’d be out to inspect the new address. Sounds good so far? Turns out Ms. Teri was not Mr. Beard’s fiance! You see, CCO Campbell was assigned two ORPs with each prisoner having the same first and last name. CCO Campbell’s error was not verifying the DOC numbers.

Once Counselor Lewandowski learned of the error, he contacted the Field Office Supervisor, resulting in Mr. Beard being assigned a new CCO on January 24, 2008.

On February 8, 2008 Mr. Beard’s ORP was approved and he was released to Snohomish County on February 26, 2008. An out-of-county ORP must be signed off by the Field Office Supervisor, but for some unknown reason the Field Office Supervisor delayed signing off on the ORP for 18 days, resulting in Mr. Beard being released on February 26, 2008, some 37 days beyond his ERD.

What Can Go Wrong?

The problem? Mr. Beard earned his Earned Release Date (ERD) of January 21, 2008 by obeying the rules, successfully participating in programming and his desire to change. Yet, he was denied his freedom – denied his ERD – not due to his mistakes, but instead due to the preventable errors of others. If those responsible had simply performed their public responsibilities consistent with their Position Descriptions, training and policy mandates [8] Mr. Beard would have been released on time.

So, what can you do to ensure a successful transition and release process? I believe it begins by taking time to understand the policy requirements set forth in DOC 350.200, paying particular attention to the mandatory time-frames, the procedures set forth in Attachments 2-6 and then taking the initiative.

* DOC 350.200 Directive (I)(A)(C) requires each assigned counselor meet with the prisoner 12 months prior to the his or her ERD to initiate release planning.

* DOC 350.200 Directive (I) (E) requires the assigned counselor to submit the prisoner’s ORP to the County Field Office for investigation at 6 months.

* DOC 350.200 Directive (I) (F) requires the assigned counselor enroll the prisoner in the Housing Voucher Program 30 days prior to ERD if the prisoner is without the ability to pay rent.

* DOC 350.200 Directive (II) (A) requires the assigned CCO investigate – approve or deny – the ORP within 30 days of being assigned. 

What Can I Do?

Engage by looking over the fence at each stage.

12 months: If the prisoner has two release address options available they should consider presenting them both at this time. Or, if the prisoner does not have any viable release address options, he or she should ask the assigned counselor for a list of DOC pre-approved addresses, requesting the counselor assist him or her in selecting two which most closely fit the prisoner’s needs.

It is also recommended at this time that you initially obtain a copy of the prisoner’s OMNI Chrono screen entries, Facility Plan, or other equivalent record (See Part IX), which contains the prisoner’s reentry plan, to ensure it has been completed consistent with RCW 72.09.270(8). It is recommended you obtain the assigned counselor’s contact information – phone, extension and email – introduce yourself, let them know you want to be involved in the process. Don’t think for a minute that your silence will be of any benefit.

6 months: It is recommended at this time that you obtain a copy of the prisoner’s OMNI Chrono screen entries and ORP (See Part IX) submitted to the Field Office, making sure everything is on track. It is also recommended you obtain the assigned CCO’s contact information – phone, extension  and email – introduce yourself, let him or her know you want to be involved in the process. Provide a series of dates/times to meet with the CCO for inspection of the potential release address and cooperate with their recommendations.

It is also recommended you contact the CCO by email with any follow-up inquiries every ten days or so.

If for some reason you have not been contacted by the CCO by day 20, you should consider contacting the Field Office Supervisor and ask “why.”

Over the years I’ve seen the transition and release process go as planned and I’ve seen it fail due to lack of training, negligence or a callous disregard for the interests at stake. 

What most people unfamiliar with prison fail to understand is that when a prisoner is denied his or her ERD, their families and friends are also affected. In many ways they too were denied their ERD, after years of waiting, years of 20 minute calls, years of reading/writing letters, years of visits across a table, years of just wanting to be whole again.

What can help ensure a successful transition and release? Work together, engage in the process at each stage, cooperate with the imposed conditions of release and if you discern a problem, you should consider obtaining a record in real time, asking questions.

I can be reached for comment or questions at: davidsheart342@gmail.com

End notes
1: RCW 9.94A.729(1)(a), (5)(a)(b)(c)
2: RCW 72.09.130(1)(2) WAC 137-30-030
3: I apologize for a delay since the last post, but . . . the WDOC has recently implemented a new evaluation tool called Washington One. Based on information and belief, it appears Washington One will drastically change the classification landscape, which may require revision of this section in the future. So, for now, I’ve decided to share what I know to be the reality on the ground and move forward. Thank you for your patience.
4: RCW 72.09.270 DOC 300.380 Policy (I)(II)
5: Name has been changed.
6: Version in effect in 2007.
7: RCW 72.09.270(8)
8: DOC 100.100 Policy (II)

Michael Holmberg
DOC #741372

Categories: Michael Holmberg

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