By Reneé Diaz
Washington State Journal
Victims and witnesses who track perpetrators in prison to know when they are released will be able to keep their identities private, if a bill that passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support becomes law.
“This bill creates a safer environment for the victims and survivors, and they are not placed again in harm’s way because of a public records request,” said T’wina Nobles, D-Fircrest.
The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) provides a tracking program for victims and witnesses so they can know when the person who victimized them is released into the community.
The current law requires that inmates will not be notified nor have access to the location of the individuals who request to decide to track them when they are in prison.
However, the DOC is required to keep a record of the requests and there is a chance that perpetrators they can find out who wants to be notified of their release through public records, said Nobles. With this bill, those records will remain confidential.
“People from domestic violence cases need the space to find healing, but that is incredibly challenging when they are concerned for their safety or if they are at risk of being harmed further,” Sen. Nobles said.
Eligible crimes to receive the notification of an inmate are violent offenses, sex offenses, violations of domestic violence, court orders and felony harassment.
Last year legislation added five more offenses to the list, including domestic violence offenses, third-degree assault, unlawful imprisonment, vehicular homicide by disregard for the safety of others and controlled substance homicide.
“As you know, data privacy is a big deal nowadays. There’s so much data that’s out there. So much is going on the internet. There are a lot of things that we need to look after to ensure we have that balance to protect our data where that’s needed,” Sen. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick, said.
“This bill’s sole purpose is to use good governance to protect survivors and witnesses. It is designed with respect for the processing of trauma by expanding who can be notified and providing survivors the assurance that they won’t be put at extra risk of harm,” Sen. Nobles said.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration by the Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee.
Forty-eight of 49 senators voted for the bill with one Senator excused from the debate.
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