The Parenting Sentence Alternative

Parenting Sentence Alternative | A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective on The Parenting Sentence Alternative.  An alternative to lengthy prison sentences for those with children who do not commit violent or sexually motivated crimes.

As criminal defense attorneys based out of Washington who are also parents, we are acutely aware of what alternatives are out there for our clients with family.  One of those alternatives is a relatively new concept for the criminal justice system: a parenting sentencing alternative.  In our roll as criminal defense attorneys | lawyers, we have dealt with young mothers, fathers and families with dependent children who make a mistake and face a felony conviction with prison time. As children are innocent, it can cause real anguish for families trying to cope with the fallout of such charges and create real problems for parents who made a mistake and are otherwise good people and parents.

Though neither the Washington state prosecuting attorneys nor the criminal court system is interested in promoting the idea that having children will get people out of prison sentences, there have been enough compelling situations that legislation was passed to allow a parent to avoid prison to care for their child while maintaining complete compliance with the court’s orders. Benefits of this program are that a parent avoids a lengthy prison sentence, the State saves money from not having to house the offender, parental figures stay in place, children are not left without a caregiver and families are able to move forward.  Unfortunately, the down side is failure is treated very harshly and an individual who opts for this program, but fails, will end up going to prison and lose all the credit for this deal.  

In some ways it is the ultimate bargain that comes with a lot of serious conditions.  In our experienced opinion, no person facing a Washington State felony conviction, no matter how much family support they have, should consider the Parenting Sentencing Alternative unless they are dead serious about their commitment to comply with the courts requirements and deal with any underlying personal issues surrounding the crime or conviction. From our perspective as criminal defense lawyers, the language of the statute authorizing this Sentencing Alternative makes it clear that failure to make “satisfactory progress” can result in the imposition of the full prison sentence at any time. As criminal defense attorneys, we know that practically this means that if a judge, in their discretion, finds a defendant not really trying, they simply send a defendant to prison to do their original sentence.  This sentencing alternative is not a game and we do not walk clients into it lightly. It is a lot of work, not easy, often requires ongoing legal counseling, but for the right family and right situation, it can be a blessing.


Out of Custody Parenting Alternative

The Revised Code of Washington sets forth the requirements and expectations for individuals who would like to apply for this sentencing alternative. This statute along with the associated case law lays out the all the details that a criminal defense lawyer | attorney should go over with a family, but the major points are:

(1)  A parent must be facing a prison sentence that is greater than one year.

(2)  A parent cannot be facing, or have a criminal record for sexual or violent crimes, as defined in the Revised Code of Washington section RCW 9.94A.030.

(3)  A parent cannot be subject to a deportation order and will not become subject to a deportation order during the period of the sentence.

(4)  The parent signs any release of information waivers required to allow information regarding current or prior child welfare cases to be shared with the department and the court; and

(5)  The parent must have physical custody of his or her minor child or be a legal guardian or custodian with physical custody of a child under the age of eighteen at the time of the current offense.  All prior or present state involvement (CPS) in the child’s life must be disclosed and presented to the court (so the judge can have all the facts before making a decision).

The court will weigh the prior criminal history and any other mitigating factors/data in making a decision.

If a parent qualifies, and a judge orders it, a judge will “waive” the prison sentence and impose 12 months of community custody (what used to be called parole or active supervision) where a community custody officer will monitor a parent. The parent will be required to make satisfactory progress on any affirmative conditions the judge thinks are appropriate, such as parenting classes, drug or alcohol treatment, mental health treatment or any other program the judge thinks is appropriate at sentencing. The monitoring officer will submit quarterly reports to the court and any problems will be handled by sanctions or removal from the program, which means back to prison to serve their original sentence.

This program was designed for a parent who has sufficient drive and support to change their lives in a positive direction, or, a parent who has made a serious mistake but on all other levels is an excellent parent and is 100% committed to following any court order.

In Custody Jail Based Parenting Alternative

Washington law does authorize a jail-based alternative to the Parenting Alternative for a judge to choose from. The program was designed for a parent whose unique situation will convince a judge that using this sentencing alternative is worth it but a judge is not fully convinced that such a parent should avoid all jail time, for whatever reason.  It has the same eligibility requirements as the non-jail alternative, however, instead of putting someone directly on community custody, the parent serves a period of confinement first and is then allowed to serve the remaining 12 months of their felony sentence on electronic home monitoring at home (and pay for it of course). This option is explained in the Revised Code of Washington.  This option is used when judges think some period of incarceration is necessary to either appease a victim(s) or make an impression on a defendant who does not demonstrate an understanding of how serious their situation really is or how bad their conduct was. 

In these cases, there are highly restrictive conditions and limitations put in place while you are on community custody that have little room for error.  The Revised Code of Washington provides a list of conditions the court can impose when an offender is placed on community custody as well as the sanctions available to the court if the offender is not meeting expectations.

We cannot stress enough that you and your criminal defense attorney | lawyer must go over this option and any decision and the thinking behind it in detail before pursuing this option.  The Department of Corrections has the complete authority to return any offender serving partial confinement in the parenting program to total confinement if the offender has the wrong attitude and is not complying with sentence requirements. One cannot get cross with any authority figure in these situations.

The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled an enormous number of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. We are interested in helping clients and families pursue sentencing alternatives under the right set of facts and will fight vigorously to achieve that result. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament.  We have fought for our clients over the prosecutor’s objection and have convinced the court to choose a specific direction based on our client’s unique situation.  Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsels who take the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.  Choosing the right counsel for your case is essential.   Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not.  Call 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.

Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>