THE REFORMERS

Governor Dan Evans believed in prison reform

Daniel J. Evans

Daniel J. Evans (a.k.a. “Straight Arrow”) was governor of the state of Washington for three consecutive terms, beginning in 1965. From the start of his first term he was dedicated to institutional reform, including prisons. Without knowing how, he was certain that the state could improve outcomes for the people sent to prison. As prison populations fell, he was a champion of what became know as “mini-prisons,” and of tearing down “these massive old warehouses.”

 

 

 

Evans’s second Director of the Department of Institutions,¬†psychiatrist William R. Conte,¬†was also a champion of prison reform. In 1970 Conte secured private funding to sent B. J. Rhay to Europe to study prison practices there. Rhay returned with reports of small, progressive prisons with significantly enhanced prisoner rights. Before the end of the year, some of the ideas Rhay brought back were incorporated in what became known as the four reforms: ending the use of strip cells (unfurnished blackout cells where a man could be held naked for days, even weeks), end of mail censorship, introduction of telephones for prisoner use, and creation of what became known as “resident government.”

William R. Conte was the last director of the Department of Institutions

William R. Conte, MD

THE RESIDENT GOVERNMENT COUNCIL

The Resident Government Council, or RGC, was established at the Washington State Penitentiary in April 1971. Its creation implemented one of the reforms announced the previous November by Director of the Department of Institutions William R. Conte. While the first year of the RGC was a qualified success, it quickly went downhill after that, its power and influence eclipsed by the major inmate clubs – the Lifers, Bikers, and BPFU.

The picture below, taken from a 1972 television broadcast by KING TV, shows members of the council in discussion. The first president of the RGC was Johnnie Harris, seen sitting at the head of the table.

The Resident Government Council, or RGC, was established in 1971

The Resident Government Council in action