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The Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative: Our Most Under-Utilized Tool in the War on Crime

WHAT IS A PARENTING SENTENCING ALTERNATIVE? 

In 2010, the Washington State Legislature Passed SSB 6639, creating what is called the Parenting Sentencing Alternative.  The law allows some nonviolent offenders who are parents of minor children the opportunity to either (1) avoid going to prison or (2) transfer from incarceration in order to parent their children.  The law has two components 

The first is called the FOSA or Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative.  In this model, the judge imposes 12 months of community custody along with treatment and parental programming instead of sending the offender to prison.  To be eligible, the offender must have physical custody of their children at the time of sentencing; have no current or previous violent or sex offenses on their record; and they must not be subject to deportation.  

The second is called the CPA or Community Parenting Alternative.  In this model, the offender is sent home on electric home monitoring for the last 12 months of their sentence to parent their child.  As with a FOSA, the offender must have physical custody of their children at the time of sentencing; have no current or previous violent or sex offenses on their record; and they must not be subject to deportation.

Failure to complete either a FOSA or a CPA will result in the revocation of their sentence, for which they will get no credit, and a prison term will subsequently be imposed.  

HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY BENEFIT FROM THIS?

Sparing children from the experience and the community of the expense of the foster care system is no small accomplishment.  It is also widely believed that children of incarcerated parents are significantly more at risk to face criminal charges themselves.  According to the Department of Corrections, 59% of CPA recipients successfully complete the program, along with 41% of FOSA participants.  Most astounding is that the alleged recidivism rate for these graduates is only 6% for those who did a FOSA and 9% for those who did a CPA.

Between 2010-2015, 451 offenders enrolled in either a FOSA or CPA

WHY PARENT SENTENCING ALTERNATIVES ARE SO RARE

The idea that criminals, even minor ones, should face anything short of prison is objectionable to victim’s rights groups…even in cases that lack an actual victim.

Relatively few people facing criminal prosecution still have custody of their children because the process for terminating parental rights and custody is considerably faster than the process for convicting someone accused of a crime.

Many courts in Washington State expressly to even consider a FOSA – declaring “a child is not a “get out of jail free” card.”

The end result is that FOSAs are rare.  I have only secured one or two out of roughly 800 defendants over the course of my career.

WHY THE FAMILY SENTENCING ALTERNATIVE NEEDS TO BE EXPANDED TO ALLOW OFFENDERS TO CARE FOR AGING PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS.

It sometimes comes as a shock to civilians, but a significant if not prominent percentage of the people I defend live with aging parents and grandparents and function as de-facto in-home-caregivers to them.  These are predominately low-income retirees, often struggling with dementia or physical disabilities that make them largely dependent on their children and grandchildren.  They often own a house and thus provide my clients with a roof over their head.  In exchange, my clients make it possible for their aging relatives to stay in their home and out of an expensive and overcrowded medicaid assisted living system that is increasingly under strain for resources.

If my client goes to prison, often times the aging relative loses their ability to live at home.  A trip to the hospital quickly follows and, if they survive that, they are eventually placed in medicaid assisted living at great expense to the community.  That’s what happens to the lucky ones at least.  

The same rationale for why parent-offenders should sometimes spend their sentences learning how to be better fathers and mothers instead of going to prison and having their children go to foster care should apply to adult children-offenders who are needed to care for their parents and grandparents.  The same classes that teach parenting skills could also teach basic CNA and caregiving skills.  The same mechanism currently in place to screen qualified offenders could be utilized to ensure safety and success for seniors who depend on those accused of a crime

This could save the community money whilst providing increased stability to the most vulnerable adults amongst us.

HOW DO WE GET THERE?

Share this post, and talk with your State Legislators about the need to expand the scope of the FOSA to address the needs of an aging Washington State.