Last week, the King County Council held off on a decision on whether to approve a contract that would move up to 150 men living at the downtown jail to the South Correctional Entity (SCORE), a non-county-owned jail in Kent, after several council members said they had concerns about the scope of the agreement, access to visitors and attorneys at SCORE, and the use of additional jail space to address persistent problems at the downtown jail, where the population and average length of stay have increased.
As PubliCola reported last year, the county’s approved 2023 budget includes $3.5 million for a contract between the county and SCORE. The agreement to move an initial 60 people, which the council will vote on tomorrow, April 4, is that contract.
During a lengthy public comment period at last week’s council meeting, attorneys, advocates, and people who had been incarcerated asked the council to reject the agreement, arguing that moving people from one jail to another would not address the underlying problems at the jail, where six people died—four of them by suicide—last year.
The proposed agreement includes a list of conditions that would make a person ineligible for transfer to SCORE. Several commenters, including a former psychiatric evaluations specialist at SCORE, said it was easy for people to fall through the cracks or develop mental health conditions in jail.
“Your choice is not between overloading SCORE and overloading the King County Jail,” public commenter Madeleine Pfeiffer said. “Just three years ago, you were faced with a public health crisis and the King County Jail and you reduce the population by 50 percent in a matter of days—why not now? Why aren’t the deaths in the King County jail a crisis now that warrants the reduction of population there?”
Several commenters noted that SCORE has also seen its share of high-profile deaths, including that of Damaris Rodriguez, a woman with mental illness who died after four days in solitary confinement; her family received $2 million in a partial settlement with the jail. According to a staff memo, the county “intends to contract with SCORE to house people who do not have serious mental or physical health issues … low-level, healthy people[.]”
The proposed agreement includes a list of conditions that would make a person ineligible for transfer to SCORE, including people who have attempted suicide in the past or shown suicidal ideation in the 72 hours before booking and people displaying a “current psychotic episode.” But several commenters, including a former psychiatric evaluations specialist at SCORE, said it was easy for people to fall through the cracks or develop mental health conditions in jail.
County budget director Dwight Dively told the council the executive branch had issues with several amendments council members proposed to make the agreement more palatable, including restrictions on how many people could be moved to SCORE without additional council approval and an amendment that would require SCORE to meet the conditions the Department of Public Defense says it requires to adequately represent their clients housed there. Dively called these amendments “problematic”—in the first case, because the county is continuing to jail more people for longer periods, and in the second, because “different jails operate in different ways.”
The council will meet and vote on the agreement at its meeting at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon.