1995 - Report of the Courts of Washington
Youth violence and the courtsIn McCleary, two boys, 16 and 17, shot the younger boy's parents to death, then drowned his five-year-old brother.
In Moses Lake, a high school student was charged with using a gun to kill a teacher and two students. A third classmate was seriously injured.
In Port Angeles, the prosecutor moved to have two 15-year-olds tried as adults after the boy and girl were charged in the shooting death of the boy's mother.
In Washington state, violent juvenile crime--murder, rape, robbery and assault--is on the rise. Using data drawn from Judicial Information System (JIS) files, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy reported in the spring of '96 that felony violence convictions for 18-year-olds in 1994 had more than doubled what they had been in 1988.
These were not repeat offenders. Most were 16- or 17-year-old first-timers who had committed a single, violent offense. Youthful violent offenders, the Institute said, were 20 times more likely to become violent adult lawbreakers, than were non-violent juveniles.
The system's response: The Legislature
Policy-makers are not sitting still.
In recent years, the Legislature has worked to update the state's juvenile justice code. Adopted in 1977, many believe it is hopelessly outdated, offering little or no retribution for the actions of increasingly violent and street-smart juvenile offenders.
A new approach to sentencing-- "adult time for adult crime"--is changing the face of juvenile justice, blurring lines between adult and juvenile offenders. Experts disagree whether this will affect the incidence of juvenile crime.
But trials of juveniles as adults were up more than 30 percent in 1995. Now, more than 70 inmates of this state's 13 prisons are under the age of 18--five times the number in 1990, according to prison records.
The system's response: The courts
In 1995, judicial and legislative leaders worked together to help unify troubled youth with their families. Superior court judges helped shape one of the session's most far-reaching juvenile-related measures: the "Becca Bill." Named for a 12-year old runaway who was later found murdered, the bill increased parental and court authority over runaway youths. It also offered more services for youth in need.
Because of the "Becca Bill," school districts now track truant students, notify parents of unexcused absences and are required to file truancy petitions with the courts for repeat offenders. More than 2,000 petitions were filed in Washington courts in 1995-96, a nearly 2,500 percent increase over the 91 filed the previous school year.
Filings of youth-at-risk petitions in juvenile courts also increased. Filed by parents, the petitions help reunite and stabilize families with troubled youngsters. The court can order children to live with a parent, obey reasonable rules of the home, attend school and get counseling. If parents participate, children who fail to comply can be sent to detention.
Judges also order drug/alcohol evaluations and assign youngsters to treatment programs. Under a similar system, Children In Need of Services, or "CHINS," petitions can be filed by the juvenile, or by the state Department of Social and Health Services on behalf of the parent.
Juvenile court professionals know they must act early--get to them when they first go on court probation--with high-risk kids. The Early Intervention Program allows professionals to do just that. Piloted in Pierce County under the 1994 youth violence law, new state funding will allow other juvenile courts across the state to participate during '96.
Authorities knew Justin had a problem, after the sixteen-year-old was caught trying to burgle a safe in a local grade school. But was that his only problem? What else was going on in his life?
Because of Justin and others like him, juvenile authorities have begun to deal with family issues in a more holistic manner.
In rural Clallam County, Washington's first "one judge, one family" program groups family members together for treatment of multiple, shared problems--juvenile delinquency, paternity, divorce, dependency and domestic violence. Larger jurisdictions--King and Thurston Counties--are also joining this new, consolidated approach to family and juvenile problems.
In 1994, King County Superior Court organized its Task Force on Unified Family Court, reviewing jurisdictional programs nation-wide to find an ideal model. Completion of an initial plan and implementation proposal is scheduled for late 1996.
The anticipated impact: increased awareness of domestic violence and its impact on the family; better informed, consistent and comprehensive judicial decisions; and greater overall coordination of family related cases and services.
Alternatives to detention
A shortage of juvenile detention space was a continuing concern for courts in '95. Nationally, statistics show the number of detainees between the ages of 14 and 17 will have swelled 14 percent by 2005.
In Washington, only 18 of the state's 39 counties have dedicated juvenile facilities. Few beds are available for runaways and youthful offenders.
But in '94 and '95, facilities were expanded in Clallam, Whatcom, and Yakima Counties. New detention facilities are planned or in process in Pierce, Thurston, Walla Walla and Benton/Franklin Counties. County facilities are also set for Snohomish, Clark and Chelan Counties, and a regional detention center will be built in Spokane County.
Meanwhile, Washington courts are exploring innovative alternatives to detention, including electronic home-monitoring, early intervention, weekend schooling, day reporting centers, and community service work crews.
Help from cyberspaceIn '95, plans were made to place a Washington courts "home page" on the World Wide Web. Now, upwards of 1,500 individuals visit the page each month for a variety of general and specific information that helps them understand and deal with the court system.
Using a computer with a web browser, such as Netscape or MS Internet Explorer, tap into http://www.courts.wa.gov to get a wide range of court information, including:
If your computer is sound-equipped, you can hear Supreme Court arguments by accessing the home page of TVW, the cable network that broadcasts public affairs programming statewide. Find TVW's homepage at http://www.tvw.org.
Finding a homeHe was eight months old when he was taken from neglectful parents. Five years, 19 court hearings and six appointed attorneys later, his status is still in doubt. When will he find a home?
Problems in the state's juvenile dependency system are the subject of a three-year, federally supported study. Begun in 1995, contract researchers from the National Center for State Courts spent the past year analyzing JIS-generated data, conducting a statewide survey, and assessing dependency procedures of juvenile courts in Yakima, Snohomish, Pierce, Okanogan and King Counties.
During 1996, an oversight committee will review the data, prioritize recommendations, and develop implementation plans for each recommendation.
Reaching out to youthJudges reach out to the youth of our community via "LRE"--law-related education.
Judges in the Classroom--a program which pairs judges and teachers in elementary, middle and high school classrooms throughout the state--has formed more than 204 partnerships since its creation in 1991. In 1995, judges visited 57 classrooms throughout the state, teaching from one of thirty lesson plans, and answering students' questions about the legal system.
Similarly, the YMCA Mock Trial Competition allows high school students to interact with judges and practicing lawyers. Students try a real case, role-playing major parts in a trial--prosecutor, defendant, defense attorney--while competing for a championship title. Each year, more than 50 judges preside over the mock trial regional and state championships.
Information drives the business of the courts. Judges and other court officials must be able to share pertinent information about individuals who appear before them.
In 1995, the 39 superior courts were given access to the Judicial Accounting Sub-System, originally developed for district and municipal courts. Now, those at both court levels can get complete case history information on individuals who have had business with the courts.
A law passed in '95 mandates that information about anyone involved in a domestic violence offense be linked to other cases involving problems in the subject's family. The program must be accessible to courts statewide. This action gave further impetus to the development of comprehensive sources of shared data for courts.
Full data integration--the folding of all JIS information into a single collection of court records--has been a system goal since 1987. In 1995, an effort to move superior court data into a database used by courts of limited jurisdiction, was begun. In the next biennium, juvenile and appellate court information will be added to this common dataset.
Full data integration should be achieved by 1998. When it is, judges and court staffers in the state's 200-plus trial and appellate courts will have common access to all data contained in the state Judicial Information System. With that at their fingertips, they will be able to make quicker, more informed decisions about individual and family matters that come before them each working day.
Identifying repeat offendersA person already convicted of DUI in Seattle is prosecuted on similar charges in Bellingham. Prior to February of 1995, prosecutors and judges in Whatcom County might not have known about the defendant's record in Seattle.
Now, an expansion of the state District Court Information System (DISCIS), assures that Seattle Municipal and 63 other limited jurisdiction courts' misdemeanant defendant histories are available to all courts of limited jurisdiction in the state.
Designed to improve data reliability and allow courts to identify repeat offenders, DISCIS has captured 90 percent of all state misdemeanor case information, including criminal traffic and non-traffic offenses.
Fighting domestic abuseAccording to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 30 percent of all homicides each year are a result of incidents of domestic violence.
To promote real changes in public policy and create more coordinated approaches to dealing with the problem, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court and the attorney general convened a "summit meeting" of law enforcement, legal, judicial and treatment experts in June of 1995. The conference goal: to foster coordinated cooperation, and initiate local plans of action.
Results are already evident: more than 45 local and state action plans are in the process of implementation. A second summit is planned for 1996.
Safer courtsThe issue of courthouse security came to the forefront of public consciousness and concern on March 2, 1995, the day three women and an unborn child were fatally shot in Seattle's King County Courthouse.
In the wake of this tragedy, the chief justice of the Supreme Court convened a summit of experts to explore ways of ensuring the safety of courthouse visitors and workers throughout the state. Their principal recommendation: establish statewide uniform security standards.
The state Courthouse Security Task Force began meeting during the summer of 1995. Less than a year later, twelve security guidelines were approved for distribution to court officials and others across the state. Intended as a blueprint for courthouse safety, the guidelines recommend security screening, limiting weapons allowed in courthouses, duress alarms for judges, closed-circuit video surveillance and restricted access to court offices, among other recommendations.
How do you vote for a judge?That question was asked of a random sample of Washington voters early in 1995.
Two-thirds responded they seldom had enough information on which to base rational electoral decisions for judges.
Though Washington's non-partisan system of electing judges has worked well over the years, many feel it could be improved. A 24-member, statewide commission, chaired by TV journalist Ruth Walsh, spent most of '95 studying ways to make those improvements. A 52-page report, The People Shall Judge, contains the Commission's recommendations.
One result of the Walsh Commission's work: creation of a special, pre-primary election voters' guide to 1996 judicial election candidates. Statewide distribution was scheduled to begin in August '96.
Judicial revenues and expendituressWashington courts are funded mostly by local governments.
Though the state funds half the salaries of superior court judges, all other costs of operating superior and district courts are supported by the counties. Municipal courts are funded exclusively by cities. Together, counties and cities support 83 percent of the cost of the state's judicial system.
The Supreme Court, its various administrative departments, and the Court of Appeals, are funded entirely by the state. Together, they represent only three-tenths of one percent of the total operating budget of Washington state government.
Filing fees, fines, and infraction penalties collected by trial courts, are shared between state and local government.
In 1995, the state's share of court collections totaled nearly $51 million. These funds were placed in the Public Safety and Education Account (PSEA), then appropriated by the Legislature to support such programs as crime victims' assistance and the Criminal Justice Training Commission.
The account also supports the statewide Judicial Information System (JIS), plus education programs for judges and court personnel. Other PSEA-funded programs include drivers' education, various State Patrol computer technology projects, and legal services for indigent defendants.
In 1995, the Legislature created a special JIS account, which is used exclusively for acquisition of computer equipment and continued development of JIS. The account is funded by an assessment on infraction penalties, collected by the courts of limited jurisdiction.
For more information...For more information on Washington courts, the following materials are available:
A Citizen's Guide to Washington Courts: Presents an overview of the Washington court system.
Guide to Terms used in Washington Courts: A glossary of commonly used legal and judicial terms.
Caseloads of the Courts of Washington: Provides statistical tables on court cases statewide for all jurisdictional levels.
A Jurors' Guide: A four panel brochure describing the trial process, the juror's role, and "dos and don'ts" of jury service. Available in Braille or audio tape formats.
Juvenile court process for juvenile offenders: A descriptive brochure on juvenile courts. Offered in English, Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Russian, Spanish, Korean and Cantonese.
Video: Welcome to Jury Duty: Enacts courtroom scenes to explain trial proceedings and juror's role in the process. Available on loan.
JIS-Link: Provides access to data banks generated by the state's Judicial Information System. For subscription information, contact the JIS-Link Coordinator, Office of the Administrator for the Courts at: JISLink@courts.wa.gov.
To receive any of these materials, contact the Office of the Administrator for the Courts, P.O. Box 41170, Olympia, WA 98504-1170, (360) 753-3365.
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