OLYMPIA – In a unanimous vote, the Washington House of Representatives recognized that the current debtor’s prison system of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) needed drastic reform and sent HB 1390 to the Senate. The legislation has been championed by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) and previously passed the House in the 2015 legislative session.
Under current law, criminal offenders who serve time in prison or jail may also be forced to pay fines, fees, and victim restitution related to their crimes, called Legal Financial Obligations. On top of the fees and fines, local governments can charge interest which accumulates even when a criminal is in prison serving their sentence. This has resulted in overwhelming debt that prohibits people from successfully returning back to the community. Some local governments also put people back in jail for not paying their LFOs.
“Too many offenders are being punished not just for their crime, but for being poor,” said Rep. Goodman after passage of the HB 1390. “The old debtor’s prisons are unfair, unconstitutional, and shouldn’t be a part of our justice system. We need to recognize that these former convicted persons have to have a glimmer of hope to live their lives within the realm of the law and forcing them into unrecoverable poverty isn’t getting us there.”
Under HB 1390 the high interest rate for LFOs will be reduced or even eliminated and courts can consider an offender’s ability to pay their debt and defer or waive court-related fines and fees. This allows offenders to prioritize paying their victims restitution, while also getting rid of the impediment of massive debt that keeps offenders from moving on with their lives.