Response to The News Tribune Misleading Article by James Drew
Two days ago, The News Tribune published a James Drew article in regard to a Washington State Supreme Court Hearing in which Columbia Legal Services asked for a Writ of Mandamus for the release of Washington State prisoners exposed to Coronavirus [COVID-19]. Drew's article is a see-through example of how irresponsible reporting is dangerous for a public looking for truth and understanding. Taylor Buck, Post-Prison Education Program, emailed the following response.

Link for the article , then read below:
James Drew,

I’m writing in response to your article,  “State, inmates’ attorney clash over COVID-19 early release plan.” State, inmates’ attorney clash over COVID-19 early release plan . More specifically, I’m writing in response to the article's biased, incomplete picture of the issues at hand. 

Fear mongering and misrepresentation are common ways media perpetuate fear of prisoners and misunderstanding of our prison system, and this article is a blatant example. It fails us as readers and citizens. Your article does not facilitate active, engaged citizenship. Instead it further stigmatizes an already disenfranchised population.

I’ll start at the end, with your reference to the Isaac Zamora case. You give no context for the case and refer only to fear of his potential release. Yet the facts of the Zamora case make unequivocally clear that the murders committed by Isaac Zamora arose from the failures of Washington State and Christine Gregoire's administration to adequately and professionally address one of Washington State's most serious issues: serious mental illness.

To exclusively focus on the purported fear that someone “violent” be freed simplifies a complex issue. The use of the word “rampage” further promotes sensationalism over sound information. In reality, it is possible to both support / protect victims of terrible crimes  and  grant humanity to those who did the crime. 

Later in the article, you quote state representative Jim Walsh:

This lawsuit is an outrage. It is a radical, anarchistic public policy agenda ... that’s using the COVID outbreak to push this radical agenda to de-populate the prisons in Washington. To say it’s not good policy is an understatement. It’s disastrous public policy.

To quote such unfounded, inflammatory language is weak and harmful journalism. There are no claims of anarchism in this petition, nor is there any indication that anyone involved in these arguments is “using the COVID outbreak to push [a] radical agenda.” Including this quote serves only to fear monger, sensationalizing the issue at hand and dehumanizing those whose lives are at stake without providing any supporting information.

You also write:
Justice Barbara Madsen noted that businesses including Boeing have resumed their operations by agreeing to take precautions to protect their employees.
“I’m not sure release is the only option,” Madsen told Straley. “Asking us to order that as the option seems to me perhaps counter to what other businesses and establishments are doing in the community.”
Madsen implies here that working at Boeing is comparable to being in a DOC prison--that prisons are just “other businesses and establishments in the community.” You fail to acknowledge that this argument is flawed. In terms of COVID-19 risk, working at Boeing is nothing like being in prison right now. There are vast differences between general businesses and DOC prisons, both in general and in terms of COVID risk.

You go on to paraphrase the Court’s argument that the petitioners “had not shown evidence that the prison system had violated the state Constitution.”

But as Straley pointed out, per the April 10th decision, the onus of this is not on the petitioners. The onus is on the governor and the DOC to prove the prison system’s ability to provide conditions in which prisoners can follow CDC guidelines. It has NOT proven this -- in fact, there is plenty of evidence to prove otherwise.
The article ends with the quote, “This guy [Zamora] does not deserve to be let loose. The people cannot let this happen.”

This sensationalized snippet implies that anyone locked up for murder or a violent crime is a bad person who does not “deserve” compassion and needs to stay locked up forever. This is a failure of nuance, and ignores the context of imprisonment, the humanity of prisoners, the conditions that nurture and condone harmful behavior in our society, and the reality of prisons during COVID-19. This is irresponsible reporting. 

I write from a place of deep compassion for those with whom I work closely (current and former prisoners). I know what a devastating impact this kind of misinformation can have. 

Please consider removing the article and replacing it with a version that provides facts, sound information and useful context, as journalism is meant to. I would be happy to provide resources, ideas and potential contacts to help support you in this project.

Sincerely,

Taylor Buck (they/them)
Post-Prison Education Program
Thank you for your continued support!

Ari Kohn
Post-Prison Education Program
Post Office Box 31092, Seattle, WA 98103-1092