Washington community organizations unite to ensure access to criminal court debt relief

Washington State – Civil Survival Project has partnered with 21 community organizations to ensure Washington’s poorest residents can obtain relief from crushing criminal court debt.

The organizations wrote a letter to the Washington Supreme Court, objecting to changes proposed by the Administrative Office of the Courts Pattern Forms Committee that would prevent individuals with limited incomes from obtaining criminal court debt relief. On October 24th, the Pattern Forms Committee is planning to vote on changes to the court forms individuals must use to obtain debt relief. The proposed changes would complicate the process for obtaining debt relief and prevent our poorest neighbors from requesting relief that they are entitled to under state and federal law.  

Civil Survival and community partners’ objections include:

  • The creation of a new, complicated process to provide financial information under seal—a process that would dramatically reduce the number of people who will be able to obtain criminal debt relief.  
  • A requirement that petitioners include their exact release date, date of offense, and sentencing date–information that isn’t readily available without having to wait months for a public records request through their local jail or the Washington State Department of Corrections, assuming they know how to file one.
  • The failure to include a process to request criminal debt relief when the court has lost its legal right to collect the debt. This requirement prevents our state’s poorest residents from obtaining relief from court debts that are over a decade old—effectively eliminating a new legal protection created by the legislature only months ago.
  • The failure to include a process for individuals with permanent disabilities to request that their limited income be exempted from court debt collection, as required under federal law.

These issues are a direct result of the Pattern Forms Committee repeatedly excluding impacted voices, people of color, and legal experts during the drafting process. Civil Survival and community partners have requested that the Washington Supreme Court convene a discussion to ensure these voices are included in future drafting processes.  

Read the letter and see the full list of organizations supporting this effort below.