Criminal Justice


On any given day in Washington, there are approximately 36,000 people living behind bars. Our state incarcerates people at the same rate as Russia and Iran. Racist policies and practices – from the war on drugs to three strikes laws to higher arrest rates and more severe sentencing for people of color – mean that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates in comparison to their white counterparts. The effects of mass incarceration are far reaching, negatively impacting children and families, communities, and the economy. And since people of color are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates, families and communities of color suffer the most.

Life after incarceration is difficult as people struggle to obtain housing, employment, education, public benefits, and reunite with family. It is hard – if not nearly impossible – for people to be successful at re-entering society and becoming contributing members of their community. In Washington, recidivism rates (the tendency for someone with a criminal background to re-offend) for men are as high as 30% and as high as 20% for women. We believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and that people impacted by the criminal justice system should have the supports and skills necessary to build fulfilling lives.

What We’re Doing About It

Poverty Action supports policies that provide opportunities for people to reclaim their lives, support their families, and participate in their communities after serving their sentences. In 2019, we are advocating for:

  • The New Hope Act – this bill would modify the process of obtaining certificates of discharge and expand the types of convictions that are eligible to be evacuated from criminal records. Among other things, these changes would help formerly incarcerated people: regain their civil rights, more easily obtain housing, employment, and professional licensing; and, reintegrate into their community.