Tag: Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention

County Approves Controversial Jail Transfer, May Keep Veterans Levy Flat Despite Rising Costs

1. After hours of public comment opposing the transfer of 60 men from the downtown King County Jail to a regional jail in Des Moines called the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) yesterday, the King County Council approved the contract, with only Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Girmay Zahilay voting “no.”

County Executive Dow Constantine secured $3.5 for the transfer, which the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention has said will only include mentally and physically “healthy” men accused of low-level crimes, in last year’s budget, but the furor over the decision didn’t begin in earnest until this year, when legislation to move the first group of downtown jail residents came before the council.

The DAJD has said the transfer is necessary to improve safety and reduce workloads for guards at the downtown jail, where understaffing has become a chronic issue and where, as several council members noted Tuesday, some officers have resorted to sleeping at the jail during the brief time between their shifts. Opponents, including prison abolitionists and the union that represents employees at the county’s Department of Public Defense, argued that the move has the potential to endanger prison residents, limits their access to visitors and attorneys, and does little to solve the long-term issue of over-incarceration, including people who languish in jail waiting for competency restoration or because they can’t pay bail.

“[The DAJD has] worked tirelessly at making sure that the standards and the jails health services in a King County Correctional Facility are better than standards in most facilities throughout this country, Caedmon Cahill, policy director for the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, told the council. (Cahill was speaking as an individual, not a representative of OCR.) “That is why I have such concern with this council and the executive outsourcing this responsibility to another agency. I do not have faith that those that SCORE will come to you when they are not meeting your expectations.”

“We need to do more with getting our staffing in place, but we also need to take down this downtown jail. That can’t be done overnight, so we’re talking about short term solutions and long term solutions, but I don’t find the short term solutions really compelling.  We’re going to be asked to put in more money, and more money, and more money, and [never] get to the solutions.”—King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles

But DAJD director Allen Nance said removing 60 people would make it easier for the department to ensure the safety of those who remain. “If we can move some people to SCORE, perhaps reduce the number of people that are in the in county jail by moving some folks to our [Regional Justice Center] facility, we can get to a place where we are no longer having to operate as much of the downtown jail as we have in the past, and we are in a better position to provide the level of service to the people who remain downtown in a way that is challenging for us to achieve today,” Nance said.

The agreement included several amendments that council members said would help mitigate its impact, including one sponsored by Councilmember Rod Dembowski that will require council approval for future transfers to SCORE and another, sponsored by council chair Dave Upthegrove, that will require the executive to get council approval for any future contract extensions.

Before the vote, Kohl-Welles, who will leave the council next year, said she expected that Constantine and the DAJD would be back with a request to expand the SCORE contract within a year. “We need to do more with getting our staffing in place,” she said. “But we also need to … take down this downtown jail,” something Constantine has pledged to do. “That can’t be done overnight, so we’re talking about short term solutions and long term solutions, but I don’t find the short term solutions really compelling.  We’re going to be asked to put in more money, and more money, and more money, and [never] get to the solutions.”

2. The King County Regional Policy Committee, which includes elected officials from cities across the region as well as county council members, voted this week to put the six-year Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy on the ballot in August without increasing the initial rate property owners will pay if the levy passes above the current 0.01 percent (10 cents for every $1,000 of property value). The levy pays for housing, behavioral health care, and other services for veterans and seniors.  A staff analysis, first reported on by Crosscut, showed that a flat levy renewal will cut the amount of affordable housing the levy can build by half, and fund ongoing operations at 45 percent fewer units than the current levy.

In contrast, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell recently proposed a renewal of the city’s affordable housing levy that would nearly triple the size of the levy, an increase that will only modestly expand the amount of housing the levy will build thanks primarily to the rising cost of construction,

Councilmember Rod Dembowski proposed several amendments that would raise the levy by varying levels—from .011 to .013 percent—but got no support.

In fact, the mayors of two suburban cities—Nancy Backus of Auburn and Angela Birney of Redmond—argued that renewing the levy at 10 cents per $1,000 actually represents an increase, because the current “effective rate” of the tax is just over 8 cents per $1,000. For context, it’s important to know that 10 cents per $1,000 was only the initial levy; it went down over the years as property taxes increased, because the county could raise the fixed amount of money the levy promised with a lower tax rate. Raising the initial level back to 10 cents per $1,000 will cost homeowners about 20 percent more, but that’s only because King County homeowners’ property wealth has skyrocketed over the past six years. If this levy passes, the effective rate will almost certainly decline as property values rise as well.

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci voted for the 10-cent rate, but said she wanted to keep the tax level open for discussion when the county council’s budget committee meets to discuss the proposal later this month.

“I will support moving this out today with the rate as it is, but would like to set the expectation that we have a real discussion at the committee,” Balducci said . “I hope we don’t walk away from exploring this as deeply as it deserves.”

County Moves Another 50 from Downtown Jail Amid ACLU Lawsuit Over Jail Conditions

By Erica C. Barnett

Less than a week after a King County Council committee tentatively approved plans to move 50 people from the downtown King County jail to the South Correctional Entity, at a cost to the county of $3.5 million, the downtown jail quietly transferred another 50 minimum-security inmates to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent over the past weekend, emptying out a unit on the downtown jail’s third floor. According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, the majority of the people who are being moved are facing misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges.

The MRJC has suspended most bookings for months because that facility—like the downtown jail—doesn’t have enough staff to book people except by appointment, Haglund said. The 50 people transferred to the Kent jail are being “double-bunked” in a unit that previously housed about 50 people, bringing the total number of people incarcerated in the Kent unit to 104. A single officer will oversee the doubled-up unit, one of the “efficiencies” DAJD director Allen Nance referred to in a memo announcing the move on March 10.

Haglund said the unit has a capacity of 115.

“We base our current staffing on how many individuals in the housing unit are out of their cell at any given time and their classification status,” he said. “One officer can supervise a maximum of 64 people in the dayroom (the “common area” in the unit) at a time; the number of people in the dayroom at any given time will not exceed the maximum levels prior to the recent transfer.” Ideally, Haglund said, “we would prefer a 1:64 ratio for officers to number of people supervised at this facility,” which would require an additional officer, but “there is no single ratio that would apply across all housing units and classification types.”

The King County Corrections Guild President has filed a demand to bargain because of the higher staffing ratio, which union president Dennis Folk says still exceeds the 1:64 ideal. “What they’re saying is, ‘You’re only managing the 40 or 50 that are coming out at one time,’ and we’re like, that’s not the case. We still have all the other people we have to manage” at the same time—people who may need out of their cells for medical care, appointments, and visitation.

“Leadership will be working with staff to develop the safest unit schedules and operational practices. We are committed to increasing the ratio of staff to residents as our staffing improves, but also believe that moving these residents from KCCF to MRJC will improve current living conditions for those in our custody and in turn lower the daily operational challenges for our staff.”—DAJD director Allen Nance

According to Nance, jail “[l]eadership will be working with staff to develop the safest unit schedules and operational practices. We are committed to increasing the ratio of staff to residents as our staffing improves, but also believe that moving these residents from KCCF to MRJC will improve current living conditions for those in our custody and in turn lower the daily operational challenges for our staff.”

The DAJD has struggled to recruit and retain jail guards in its adult and youth jails. told PubliCola the department needs to hire more than 100 net new officers to reach the point where guards no longer receive 2.5 times their regular pay for working voluntary (as opposed to mandatory) overtime shifts. Folk said emptying out the third-floor unit would eliminate the need for one guard.

The downtown jail population, which bottomed out during COVID (when booking restrictions limited the number of people booked for low-level crimes), has rebounded to more than 1,200, without a commensurate uptick in staffing. King County Executive Dow Constantine has pledged to close the downtown jail , but the population has trended in the opposite direction of closure, prompting protests from advocates who argue that the county should stop booking non-violent felonies until the jail can guarantee adequate physical and mental health care and ensure the safety of incarcerated people.

The ACLU of Washington sued King County last month, alleging that conditions at the downtown jail are so bad that they violate a 1998 agreement known as the Hammer settlement, in which the county agreed to address overcrowding and poor medical care, and understaffing at the jail. The DAJD’s recent efforts to transfer people out of the downtown jail are widely viewed as an attempt to come closer to compliance with that settlement.

According to Molly Gilbert, the president of the union that represents the county’s public defenders, moving people to RJC—as opposed to SCORE—could be a positive for defense attorneys, if the people who get moved to Kent are defendants from the area; currently, Department of Public Defense (DPD) attorneys have to travel to downtown Seattle to meet with their Kent-area clients. “However, we have no idea what population they actually moved,” Gilbert added.

Meanwhile, the public defenders’ union is trying to get King County Councilmembers to add an amendment to the legislation approving the contract with SCORE that would spell out DPD’s visitation needs and require a quarterly report on how the contract is going. The full council will take up that legislation, which passed out of committee unanimously, next week.

Amid Lawsuit Over Jail Conditions, County Moves Forward With Controversial Inmate Transfer Plan

By Erica C. Barnett

A King County Council committee tentatively moved forward on an agreement to move up to 150 men currently incarcerated at the downtown King County Correctional Facility to the South Correctional Entity (SCORE), a jail owned jointly by six south King County cities. The contract, which will cost the county around $3.5 million over two years, is supposed to “help King County mitigate the impact of the unprecedented levels of employee vacancies on staff in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention,” according to a letter from King County Executive Dow Constantine that accompanied the legislation. Under the agreement, DAJD would initially transfer about 50 men to SCORE starting in April.

PubliCola first reported on the county’s decision to fund the SCORE contract last year.

The county council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee moved the agreement forward without recommendation, citing the need to balance concerns raised by attorneys who represent incarcerated people with the abbreviated timeline laid out by Constantine and the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, which runs the jail. The council plans to work out the details over the next two to three weeks and adopt the agreement by the end of March.

The union that represents employees at King County’s Department of Public Defense, SEIU 925, believes the proposed agreement fails to address their concerns that moving defendants to SCORE will impede attorneys’ access to their clients and put them at a disadvantage during court proceedings; the union sent a letter to the council laying out their concerns with the contract last night.

Currently, SCORE only allows inmates to access court hearings virtually, and has just one booth where attorneys can talk to their clients and pass documents back and forth, along with several booths where one member of an inmate’s defense team (which might include investigators, paralegals, and mitigation specialists) can communicate with them at a time.

“We frequently have to get documents signed; we frequently have to work through documentation; we frequently need interpreters. Trying to do this over video will be impossible.”—Department of Public Defense union president Molly Gilbert

SCORE also has video visitation booths where visitors can speak with incarcerated people virtually; the jail, unlike those operated by King County, has no in-person visitation.

“Once you get above the misdemeanor level and start talking about felonies, you’re talking about really convoluted court hearings and legal concepts that are difficult to explain,” DPD union president Molly Gilbert told PubliCola. “We frequently have to get documents signed; we frequently have to work through documentation; we frequently need interpreters. Trying to do this over video will be impossible.”

Last November, the union filed a demand to bargain over the proposal to move inmates to SCORE, arguing that the agreement creates changes to their members’ working conditions; the county has not agreed to negotiate with the union.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist here, but we are at a critical stage. Delaying simply creates one more day, one more moment where the opportunities for people in our custody won’t get met.”—Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention director Allen Nance

At Tuesday’s meeting, interim DAJD administrative division director Diana Joy said SCORE had assured the department that it would transfer defendants to court and that attorneys as well as other DPD staff, such as investigators and paralegals, will have direct access to clients.

However, the contract itself says only that “SCORE will provide a minimum of one transport to a King County designated facility every twelve hours for King County inmates newly booked at SCORE or housed at SCORE and requested by King County to be returned.” It says almost nothing about defendants’ access to attorneys and others working on their cases; the sole reference to these rights in the contract is a line stipulating that “confidential telephones or visitation rooms shall be available to a Contract Agency Inmate to communicate with his or her legal counsel.

At Tuesday’s meeting, DAJD director Allen Nance said it was important for the county to move forward on the contract quickly because conditions at the jail have continued to deteriorate amid an ongoing staffing shortage.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist here,” Nance said, “but we are at a critical stage … Delaying simply creates one more day, one more moment where the opportunities for people in our custody won’t get met.”

Understaffing at the jail reached unprecedented levels during the pandemic, as the jail struggled to hire and retain applicants for high-stress jobs that pay less than other law enforcement positions and lately have required frequent mandatory overtime. Currently, according to King County Corrections Guild president Dennis Folk, the jail is 111 guards short of its staffing target—an improvement since last year, when the shortage reached 129 absent guards.

“This is [DAJD’s] way of trying to decrease our numbers [of people] that are in custody, which ultimately results in us having less posts that we need to fill,” Folk said. Removing 50 people from the jail, for example, could eliminate the need to staff one floor of the jail, for example. “I don’t think it will make that big of a dent, but they seem to think it will.”

Guard shortages, combined with a dramatic increase in the number of people housed at the downtown jail, have led to untenable and sometimes dangerous conditions in the jail. In February, the ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging that conditions at the jail violate an agreement known as the Hammer settlement, which requires the jail to meet minimal health and safety standards, including adequate access to behavioral and physical health care.

The contract says the inmates who will be transferred to SCORE will be men accused of Class C and “non-violent B level” felonies, such as burglary, auto theft, and  stalking. “SCORE would not be used for people doing service work in King County jails, who have frequent court appearances, or who have significant medical or mental health needs,” the agreement says. Gilbert says a stable group of inmates without “frequent court appearances” doesn’t really exist; everyone in the jail, except people waiting to go to Western State Hospital for competency evaluations, has to appear in court. “We don’t understand what population it is they’re talking about,” she said.

“Yes, it’s challenging, yes, there are tradeoffs, but I think we owe it to the folks who are trying to make the best of a very dangerous situation, to take up their request … and give the best answer we can within the timeline they have asked for.”—King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci

King County Councilmember and committee chair Girmay Zahilay said Tuesday that while “on the one hand, we want to be able to relieve pressure on… the downtown jail,” which is facing “crisis” conditions, “on the other hand, we’ve heard some some downsides,” including the need for defense attorneys to travel to a third jail, on top of the downtown jail and the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent (which has suspended new bookings) , in order to meet with clients.

Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who worked for DAJD for 15 years and directed the department from 2011 to early 2014, countered that both DPD and the jail itself have asked the county to do something to improve conditions inside the facility. “So yes, it’s challenging, yes, there are tradeoffs, but I think we owe it to the folks who are trying to make the best of a very dangerous situation, to take up their request … and give an answer the best answer we can within the timeline they have asked for.”

Folk, from the jail guards’ union, said that once the jail has 473 guards on staff—the point at which guards who volunteer for extra shifts are no longer eligible for overtime pay at 2.5 times their regular wages—”I want that contract canceled.” Hiring more than 100 new guards presents challenges that go beyond recruitment. One issue, Folk said, is that many new recruits can’t pass the state law enforcement academy’s physical fitness test; in a recent batch of 13 new guards, he said, “over half failed” and had to be let go. Still, he said, the jail has 19 new hires coming on board this month.

In July 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine pledged to close the downtown jail “in phases” after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the intervening years, the county’s overall jail population has rebounded, reaching about 1,600 (compared to a pre-pandemic average of around 1,900) last year.

Inmates Say Jail Water Still Coming Out Brown; Morales Opposes Expansion of “Inequitable” Seattle Promise Program

1. Last week, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced that it had resumed the use of tap water for drinking and cooking “after new tests, like all other tests performed recently, confirmed that tap water in the jail meets EPA and Washington Department of Health drinking water standards.” The jail began distributing bottled water after complaints that the tap water in cells, ordinarily the only water source for drinking, hygiene, and heating packaged foods, was cloudy or brown.

According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, the county’s facilities division “has worked diligently with water quality experts to assess the quality of the water and attempt to determine the cause of any discoloration or turbidity in the water.” (PubliCola reported exclusively on the water shutdown last month). Inmates at the jail lacked tap water for more than a month while the county was doing tests, and two current inmates told us they did not have access to adequate bottled water.

Haglund provided copies of testing results that indicated the water is safe to drink. However, multiple reports from inside the jail continue to indicate that the water is brown and cloudy. According to one defense attorney, a client at the jail reported that running the faucet in his cell “causes it to turn brown/black with visible film on top and particles in it.” The mother of another inmate said her son reported that “the water is still brown” and that guards are no longer handing out water.

Haglund confirmed that the jail is no longer handing out bottled water, and said that after following up on a complaint about water quality, a jail captain “did not observe any discoloration, abnormalities, or any other inconsistencies in the water” in the south wing of the jail. “We will continue to follow up if we receive additional reports about water issues,” Haglund said.

2. As part of the city budget deliberations that are still ongoing, City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, has proposed several amendments that would claw back most of $5.7 million in unspent dollars from the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy, which funds preschool, college assistance, and other programs. Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed investing this underspend in Seattle Promise, whose scholarships have turned out to disproportionately benefit white students, rather than the preschool programs for which the funding was originally intended.

Morales’ amendments would reduce Harrell’s proposed new spending on Seattle Promise by $1 million in 2023 and $3.7 million in 2024 and require the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning to come up with a new plan to prioritize low-income kids, first-generation immigrants, and students of color for Seattle Promise enrollment. The amendments would not reduce overall funding for the program, and it wouldn’t eliminate funding Harrell’s office has already allocated for Seattle Promise purposes in advance of this year’s budget process.

“White students get more access to more [Seattle Promise] dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

The Seattle Promise program, which provides scholarships (“Tuition”) and financial assistance (“Equity Scholarships”) to Seattle high school students who attend a local college in Seattle. Most of the funding for Seattle Promise goes toward tuition, with a smaller portion paying for grants to help kids of color and low-income kids, who often don’t qualify for scholarships because they receive tuition assistance through state and federal programs, to pay for other college necessities like food and transportation.

The implementation plan for the levy says that if demand for tuition exceeds available funds, “tuition funds will be prioritized for low-income, first-generation” students and students of color. It also says that any levy funds that go unspent at the end of the year, including tuition and scholarship funds, will supplement the preschool programs that make up the bulk of FEPP levy spending. However, this language has never been adopted into law, which is why Harrell was able to propose rolling $5.7 million in unspent Seattle Promise dollars back into the tuition side of the program, rather than spending it on preschool.

Seattle Promise was explicitly designed to close race-based opportunity gaps that keep kids of color from attending college. In reality, according to Morales, almost half the program’s tuition funding has gone to white students. “The way that it is currently structured is inequitable,” Morales said at a committee meeting late last month. “White students get more access to more dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. … Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”

Jail Water Still “Cloudy” After Three Weeks; Advocates Want to Move City’s Homeless Outreach Team to Regional Authority

1. More than three weeks after inmates at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle first reported brown water coming out of their taps, jail residents are still relying on bottled water, as the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention awaits more test results on water the DADJ describes as “cloudy,” but safe to drink. The cloudiness comes from unidentified particles suspended in the water.

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DADJ, said jail residents get bottled water at every meal, during medication rounds, and on request. “Out of an abundance of caution, jail staff have continued to distribute bottled water several times a day since the first reports of cloudiness were received about three weeks ago,” DADJ spokesman Noah Haglund said.

But defense attorneys and people currently incarcerated at the jail dispute this, saying people are not getting enough water to drink.

“They’re saying they’re giving it to us at our request, but it’s not like that—we get [a 16-ounce bottle of] water once every six to eight hours,” one jail resident said. Another said he had received even less. At least one incarcerated person has filed a grievance with the department, saying the brown water that was coming out of the tap in late September made him sick.

Jail inmates purchase food from the commissary, such as ramen and rice, to supplement the meager jail diet, using hot tap water to cook it. According to Haglund, the county’s Facilities Maintenance Division is still waiting on test results from water samples taken this week at the jail.

2. Some advocates for people experiencing homelessness are pushing to move the city’s HOPE Team, which does outreach and offers shelter beds to unsheltered people in encampments the city is about to sweep, out of the city and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, PubliCola has learned. Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, who did not respond to a request for comment, is reportedly leading the internal discussion about this potential change to the way the city responds to encampments.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going


Harrell’s budget would expand the HOPE Team from four to 10 “system navigators” at a cost of about $1 million; moving these workers to the KCRHA, along with funds that help HOPE Team members locate available shelter beds and coordinate their work with other agencies, would shift about $2.7 million out of the city’s budget and into KCRHA’s.

That $2.7 million represents a fraction of the $38 million Harrell wants to spend on a new, consolidated encampment cleanup team called the Unified Care Team, which already includes dozens of employees in the parks, transportation, and public utilities departments. (That $38 million also includes a related effort called the Clean City Initiative). Harrell’s budget includes $15 million in new spending to increase the team to 61 members, far more than the controversial, disbanded Navigation Team had at its peak.

The KCRHA does not oversee the city’s routine encampment removals, which include both pre-scheduled and short-notice sweeps. It’s unclear how the transfer of these employees would impact their work at encampments and their ability to coordinate with the city and homeless service providers. The request is not coming from the KCRHA, which currently has its hands full fighting against another Harrell proposal that would effectively cut homeless provider pay by permanently capping mandatory contract increases at 4 percent, far less than the rate of inflation.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going. Co-LEAD provides hotel-based lodging and intensive case management to people experiencing homelessness; LEAD is a case management program for people involved in the criminal legal system, including those who are housed. In addition to underfunding these programs, Harrell’s budget assumes Co-LEAD will begin moving people into new tiny house villages, rather than the hotel rooms the program currently uses.

Building a new tiny house village to shelter Co-LEAD clients wouldn’t just represent a downgrade in terms of facilities (hotels, unlike tiny houses, have individual showers, restrooms, and running water); it would also require the PDA to plan and win approval for a new, mostly outdoor shelter complex somewhere in Seattle, where protesters just killed a 90-bed expansion of an existing homeless shelter in the industrial neighborhood of SoDo.

Fewer Staff, More Incarcerated Kids, and Frequent Solitary Confinement as Youth Jail Closure Deadline Approaches

By Erica C. Barnett

In July 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine committed publicly to closing down the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), saying it was time to shift “public dollars away from systems that are rooted in oppression and into those that maintain public health and safety.”

“Today I commit King County to converting the remaining youth detention units at the CFJC to other uses as quickly as possible, and no later than 2025,” Constantine announced in a Twitter thread that noted the connection between police murders of Black people and mass incarceration. About half the kids King County incarcerates are Black, a group that makes up about 6 percent of the county population, and about 18 percent are white, compared to 69 percent of the county.

Constantine’s announcement came at a time of heightened public scrutiny of the criminal legal system in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis. The youth detention center had opened just five months earlier, replacing a decrepit, 212-bed facility next door, and stood largely empty because of COVID and a general reduction in youth arrests. The population would hover at about 20 young people throughout the next year, peaking at 26 and dipping to just 17 in August 2021.

One year later, however, the trend has reversed. In August, the average daily population at the youth jail was 41; on October 3, it was 42, including four kids charged as adults. While the population at the jail has grown, the number of guards at the jail has declined; as of September, 22 of 91 juvenile detention officer positions were unfilled, down from about six vacancies in the fall of 2020—a shortfall of 24 percent.

The timeline for closing down the youth detention center could also get a reality check. Closing the jail requires alternatives to incarceration that don’t exist yet, and the process to come up with those alternatives, which will likely include restrictive housing for youth who present a danger to the community, is proceeding slowly.

The increase in the number of young people incarcerated at the CFJC is exacerbated by a similarly steep decline in the number of people working at the jail. A representative of the Juvenile Detention Guild told PubliCola that juvenile corrections officers are leaving their jobs more than twice as fast as the county can hire replacements. Understaffing has also impacted other positions at the facility, which has at times been short on nurses and other medical staff. The high attrition rate has created a shortage not just of workers but experience—a gap that shows no sign of closing even as the county ramps up financial incentives to get new hires in the door.

Understaffing has contributed to the frequent use of solitary confinement, a practice that persists even though it was officially banned in 2017. Jail officials acknowledge that they use “room confinement” when there aren’t enough staff to let kids into common areas safely, but there is no legal distinction between “room confinement” and other euphemisms for isolating kids in their cells for up to 20 hours a day.

Solitary confinement leads to stress, boredom, and fights, and has contributed to a reported uptick in assaults on guards and other staff. According to the juvenile guards’ union representative, “We hire staff who want to work with youth, but they are leaving [because] it is an unsafe work environment, we have to lock youth in their dorms for extended periods of time, [and we] do not have sufficient staffing to provide services to the youth.”

King County officials are aware that keeping kids in their cells is a problem, but the use of the practice has been escalating. In July, there were 13 days when kids were locked in their cells between 18 and 20 hours a day because of short staffing at the jail. Additionally, an independent monitor’s report released in May found a “significant increase” in the number of times youth were put in “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement) because of a risk of “imminent and significant physical harm to the youth or others,” along with a spike in the length of this form of confinement; in the first quarter of this year, 41 kids were put in restrictive housing for an average of 6 hours per session. 

Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, says the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is skirting laws that were passed specifically to prevent the department from doing exactly what it’s doing now. “The King County Council should get involved and pass strict requirements that force DAJD to do the right thing because we know they aren’t” on their own, Straley said.

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—who, like most of the nine county council members, visited the CFJC recently to get a better sense of conditions at the jail—said he was “shocked” to learn recently that the county still effectively allows solitary confinement for youth.

“If we literally don’t have the staffing to monitor people, I understand why that creates a different kind of situation, but it still is alarming, because from an experiential perspective rather than a technical perspective, the youth experience that the same way,” Zahilay said. “All the reasons we don’t want solitary confinement for youth are still true in that scenario, and we have to do everything we can to change those circumstances.”

Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)
Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance (background: King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall)

For adolescents, confinement is a particularly harsh punishment, depriving them of not only of chances to interact with other kids and adults but making it harder to schedule visits with attorneys and family members. During visits, kids are separated from their family members by Plexiglas, depriving them of the chance to hug their parents or hold their own children.

“There have been issues with parents not being able to have contact with their kids and only being able to see each other through Plexiglas,”  a COVID-era innovation that prevents direct contact between family members and incarcerated youth, CLS’ Straley says. “The reality is that you’ve got the bare minimum level of humane treatment, and simply not having enough staff isn’t the only reason. They need to have more staff, and/or they need to have fewer kids in jail.”

There’s little consensus about why the county is locking up more kids at a time when youth detention is supposedly on a path to extinction. Jimmy Hung, who leads the juvenile division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, attributes the reversal to an uptick in violent crime among both young people and adults. “And it’s not isolated to King County; it’s throughout the country,” Hung said. “We are dealing with aftermath of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, and that has also collided with the continuing escalation and increase in just the sheer number of firearms we have in our community.”

Straley believes the “perception out there that crime is running out of hand” is also contributing to harsher sentences from judges. “I think that perception is not accurate, but that’s the perception, and judges are aware of that and they adjust the sentence accordingly,” he said.

A DADJ spokesman, Noah Haglund, said another reason more kids are being detained is that incarcerated youth are being incarcerated longer, particularly the small percentage of kids charged as adults, whose average stay at the CFJC is 284 days; for kids detained on juvenile charges, it’s 17. Both averages have increased over the last five years.

Whatever the reasons, the number of kids at the youth jail is growing, and the number of staff at the jail is not keeping up.

DAJD director Allen Nance, appointed to the position last month after three years as head of the juvenile division, told PubliCola recently that the department “recognize[s]that not only do we need to do a better job recruiting quality folks to work with our young people in custody, but we also have to work diligently to implement strategies to keep the employees that we have today.”

Currently, the department offers hiring bonuses of $7,500 for new hires and $15,000 for lateral hires, as well as $5,000 to any county staffer who recruits a new detention officer for the adult or youth detention center. (Jobs at the adult jail pay slightly better).

However, the county lacks any significant programs to retain jail staffers once they’re hired—a major problem, given how many leave after they experience the challenges of the job; according to the union representative, “many staff will forfeit the money versus staying due to conditions” at the jail, including low morale, lack of support from DAJD leadership, poor schedules, and a lack of transparency about what will happen to CFJC staff if and when the facility closes.

Rod Dembowski, a King County council member who has been skeptical of the 2025 closure date, said during a recent council meeting that one reason the CFJC may be having trouble hiring guards is that the jobs offer no long-term security. “Why would someone come on to this job or stay in this job if it’s going to be gone in two or three years?” Dembowski said. “It’s not a real great career incentive and that may be hampering us.”

Hiring bonuses remain the primary tool the county uses to recruit new guards at both the juvenile and adult jail, which is also facing a crippling staff shortage.  But county rules require newly hired jail staff to pay part of their bonuses back if they stay less than three years, which means that a guard hired today would have to stay at the CFJC until 2025, when the facility is supposed to close, with no guarantee of a new position.

“Our office’s position has always been that zero youth detention is a goal that we should strive for, and it’s aspirational. I don’t believe that we can truly reach zero youth detention before I’m gone, but maybe for my daughter and my grandkids we can see that [happen].”—King County Prosecutor’s Office Juvenile Division Director Jimmy Hung

At the same time, the juvenile detention department currently relies heavily on mandatory overtime, which falls primarily on new hires. Nance, the DAJD director, said “we definitely intend to reduce over-reliance on mandatory overtime, and in fact, incentivize individuals to voluntarily work overtime,” but did not offer specifics when we asked him about the issue in September.

Nance also said the department is “in the process of finalizing” retention incentives for existing staff, “recognizing that those individuals who have already made the commitment to stay at the detention facility through 2025 deserve an opportunity to work in an environment where they are valued, where they where they are well compensated, and where we go above and beyond wherever we possibly can to support their continued employment in the department.”

Nance did not offer more details about the department’s strategy to keep the staff it has.

Nor is it clear whether the youth detention center will actually close in 2025—or ever. Earlier this year, planning for the closure shifted from the DAJD to the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) in recognition of the fact that closing the youth detention center will require standing up community-based alternatives to incarceration, including housing that is more humane than a jail. Continue reading “Fewer Staff, More Incarcerated Kids, and Frequent Solitary Confinement as Youth Jail Closure Deadline Approaches”

Proposed County Budget Will Includes More Cops, Jail Guards, Bus Security, and Diversion Programs

Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention director Allen Nance, King County Sheriff Patti Cole--Tindall
Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention director Allen Nance, King County Sheriff Patti Cole–Tindall

King County Executive Dow Constantine previewed his 2023 public safety budget on Monday, announcing his plans for new spending on police recruitment, diversion programs, corrections officers in the adult and youth jails, and body cameras for sheriff’s deputies—along with 140 new security officers for Metro buses and other investments.

The proposed new investments, which are part of an upcoming annual budget proposal that will be amended and approved by the King County Council, include:

  • $2.4 million for Vital, a program that targets “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system by providing case management and wraparound services;
  • $7.3 million for  Restorative Community Pathways, a pre-filing diversion program for youth who commit certain first-time felonies;
  • $5 million for body-worn cameras, which every deputy would be required to wear by the end of 20205;
  • $21 million to hire 140 new security officers for King County Metro buses, transit centers, and stops.

King County Metro deputy general manager Michelle Allison said the bus agency needs more uniformed security officers on and off the buses to respond to concerns from riders and bus drivers that the bus system is unsafe. “Having more safety personnel is helpful for our riders and for our employees,” Allison said. “These folks acts act as a deterrent, and provide support for our customers and our colleagues.”

Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said the sheriff’s office has supported body-worn video for officers for at least the past decade, but that “it just takes time” to implement major changes. “We have to complete collective bargaining,” she said. “I think the time is right for cameras because our deputies actually want them. The community expects us to have them that accountability and transparency piece. It’s happening now, and I think that’s the important thing.”

Responding to questions about hiring,Cole-Tindall said her office has already hired 50 new deputies this year, and hopes to hire another 70 in the next two years.

The sheriff’s office isn’t the only county agency that has had trouble not just recruiting but retaining staff. The problem has been particularly acute at the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, where understaffing at both the adult and youth jails has led to repeated lockdowns and the increased use of solitary confinement, including in the county’s Child and Family Justice Center (CFJC), which is supposed to shut down by 2025.

Retention, particularly at the juvenile jail, is a problem: more than 20 of the 90 juvenile detention officer positions are currently vacant, and far more officers have left their jobs at the CFJC than the county has been able to hire.

Nance said his department is “currently working on a plan” to restore in-person visits for family members and social service providers by the end of the year. Additionally, he said, the department plans to restore full booking hours at the Kent and downtown Seattle jails by early next year; currently, bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent are by appointment only, and the downtown jail has shut down booking three times in recent months because of staffing shortage.

Over the next two years, Nance added, DADJ will bring on 100 new adult correctional officers and 30 officers for the juvenile jail. Currently, the county offers hiring bonuses of up to $15,000 for new recruits. However, retention, particularly at the juvenile jail, is a problem: more than 20 of the 90 juvenile detention officer positions are currently vacant, and far more officers have left their jobs at the CFJC than the county has been able to hire. New recruits have to pay the bonuses back if they don’t stay for three years; with the youth jail slated for closure in 2025, this presents a challenge: It’s harder to nail new employees to a three-year commitment when they know they may be out of a job at the end of that period.

Jail Audit Finds Racial Disparities, Relationship Between Violence and Overcrowding

By Paul Kiefer

As the recent COVID-19 outbreak in King County jails subsides, a new report by the King County Auditor’s Office has highlighted an array of other concerns about safety and racial disparities in the county’s two adult detention facilities. Among the reasons for concern: Black and Indigenous women in King County jails spend more time in restrictive custody than the average for all female prisoners, and the death rate for inmates exceeds the national average.

The report, which auditor Kymber Waltmunson and her staff presented to the county council on Tuesday, recommended that the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention take steps to suicide-proof cells, expand psychiatric care for inmates, reduce the number of inmates per cell, and limit opportunities for jail staff to discriminate against Black and Indigenous inmates through housing assignments and behavioral sanctions, among other suggestions.

Inmates in King County jails die at a higher rate than the national average—in 2020, for instance, five inmates died in the county’s custody.

On some fronts, the auditor’s report showed signs of improvement at King County jails. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several county departments—including courts and the county prosecutor’s office—have collaborated to reduce the county’s day-to-day inmate population by tightening the criteria for detention.

The results are clear: in 2020, the county’s average daily inmate population fell from roughly 1,900 at the start of the year to roughly 1,300 by the year’s end. At the larger, higher-security jail in downtown Seattle, the declining inmate population allowed jail administrators to distribute the remaining inmates across now-empty cells.

According to the auditor, reducing the number of inmates sharing a cell spurred a dramatic drop in the number of fights and assaults in the downtown jail: While the facility’s population fell by 47 percent in 2020, violent incidents fell by roughly 63 percent.

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At the lower-security Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, the reduction in violence was less pronounced, and smaller than the decrease in the jail’s population. That facility, which holds fewer inmates than the downtown jail, holds fewer inmates and rarely places two people in the same cell—a practice known as “double-bunking.” As a result, and because of the types of inmates held in Kent, the facility sees far less violence in a typical year than the jail in downtown Seattle.

But Brooke Leary, the Law Enforcement Audit Manager for the county auditor’s office, cautioned the council that the decline in violence—including fights, attacks on inmates and attacks on staff—could reverse if the county abandons its pandemic-era efforts to reduce the inmate population, or if the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) follows through on King County Executive Dow Constantine’s plan to close down a floor of the downtown jail by 2022.

In their report, the county’s auditing team recommended that jail administrators work with prosecutors and courts to ensure that the inmate population continues to fall to avoid a future increase in “double-bunking” and an associated uptick in violence.

In his response to the recommendations, DAJD Director (and former Seattle police chief) John Diaz rebuffed the auditor’s suggestion that his department should prioritize providing each inmate their own cell. Continue reading “Jail Audit Finds Racial Disparities, Relationship Between Violence and Overcrowding”