Grantee Stories

November 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already dire housing situation in King County, particularly for people with low incomes and for people of color, forcing many financially insecure people out of their homes.

Many among this population also have legal, social, and economic barriers to acquiring and maintaining stable housing due to a criminal record. This population also is disproportionately people of color. For example, incarceration rates for Black men in Washington are five times the rate of white men.

One of those legal and economic barriers of a criminal conviction is court-imposed “legal financial obligations” (LFOs), which have been accruing 12% interest for years. (A 2018 reform removed courts’ authority to impose 12% interest on non-restitution LFOs going forward.) In King County, if those LFOs include victim restitution, unpaid debt may result in the debtors’ arrest. In this respect, LFO policy criminalizes poverty. LFO policy also is also one of racialized wealth extraction. It disproportionately impacts communities of color. A former Living with Conviction team member characterized LFOs as keeping people with LFOs “shackled” to the criminal legal system for life.

Living with Conviction, a collaboration between formerly incarcerated individuals and their legal allies, advocate together for an end to burdensome LFOs. With a King County COVID-19 Response Grant through LFW, LwC has expanded its peer-to-peer Legal Empowerment Program. With King County support, LwC created a mobile team of formerly incarcerated individuals who visit transitional housing, work release facilities, probation offices, and homeless encampments throughout King County. The team helps their peers with LFOs prepare and submit to the King County Superior Court formal requests to reduce their LFOs, to the extent the law allows. The team uses LwC’s Justice in Motion Web App, an online guided interview that asks a series of questions and then, with the answers, fills out the mandatory court forms. For the people the team helps, they also deliver the court forms: filing them in the clerk’s office, serving them on the prosecutor’s office, and delivering bench copies to the judges’ mailroom.

Upon a properly prepared and filed motion, it is mandatory on the part of the court to waive the accrued non-restitution interest.

LwC’s formerly incarcerated IT Director Kyrrah Nork, explains, “Justice in Motion enables people to exercise their rights under Washington law that the state neglected to inform them of. It helps formerly incarcerated individuals relieve some of their debt burden, which in turn enables them to better meet their day-to-day financial needs and be productive members of society.”

To date (and excluding many pending motions), King County Superior Court has waived approximately $60,000 in non-restitution LFO interest for the people that LwC has helped with this grant. That number rises to approximately $300,000 in waived non-restitution interest when we include waivers for individuals living outside King County with King County LFOs.

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October 2022

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, public school students with disabilities and their families in King County and across Washington State have increased need for individual representation and education advocacy. COVID-based  learning loss most significantly impacted students with disabilities who also experience additional marginalized identities. Disability Rights Washington (DRW) received increased reports of amplified inequities with loss in academic, social and emotional learning, behavior and mental health supports, as well as a loss of important day-to-day structure and relational safety. Without these supports, some students have been admitted to hospitals and other students have experienced more restrictive placement and punishment at school.

With a King County COVID-19 Response Grant through LFW, DRW has expanded our legal service capacity to meet these pressing needs. DRW is providing advice and technical assistance on education to students with disabilities, with additional educational advocacy through negotiation, mediation or due process, while monitoring and reporting on the use of isolation and restraints in King County. DRW is centering race and focusing on those most impacted by COVID-19, including students who are BIPOC, non-native English speakers, low-income, with lived experience in housing instability and/or the foster care system. Addressing these acute needs and working with the most impacted students and families will not only provide an opportunity to address immediate problems, but also will address long-term systemic violence and injustice disproportionately impacting BIPOC disabled students in schools every day.

Click here to learn more about Disability Rights Washington.