OLYMPIA – On a bipartisan vote, the House Committee on Public Safety moved forward legislation today providing rehabilitated, formerly incarcerated individuals a chance to rebuild their lives after leaving prison. House Bill 2890 (the New Hope Act) addresses the “collateral consequences” affecting individuals when they re-enter society and attempt to make a fresh start.
“We want to make it easier for people who have spent some time in prison to get their lives back together and get decent jobs so they can support their families,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, who sponsored the measure. “That’s what this bill does: it removes some of the barriers that are preventing people from rebuilding their lives.”
A criminal conviction can mean a lifetime of consequences that continue after a person’s prison sentence is complete. These consequences can affect employment, business opportunities, housing, student loan obtainment and more, making it difficult to become a productive member of society. Families and communities both suffer when formerly incarcerated individuals cannot successfully reintegrate.
Tarra Simmons, who testified in favor of HB 2890, knows this struggle well. After successfully completing a drug treatment program and serving 20 months in prison, she emerged to find numerous barriers to rebuilding her life, including the Washington State Bar Association voting against her admission to the bar after she graduated from law school. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled in her favor.
“Rehabilitation, reentry, and restoration are missing components of the criminal justice system. If we want to keep the public safe, we must give people hope for a second chance,” Simmons said.
Another formerly incarcerated individual, Steven Simmons, also testified in favor of Hansen’s bill. Currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at Western Washington University, Simmons spoke to the committee about his outreach work with formerly incarcerated students.
“I feel we could be that much more effective, and we could instill that much more hope, if we felt and were able to convey to others the sense that society is willing to meet us on the other side of the bridges we are building,” Simmons said.
Today’s vote moves the bill closer to passage by the full House.