Tag: King County Jail

King County Plans to Move Up to 150 Inmates to Address Capacity Issues at Downtown Jail

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this year, King County Executive Dow Constantine quietly added $3.5 million to the county’s budget for “potential contracted services to address jail capacity issues”—a reference to understaffing at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle, which is currently facing a shortage of about 120 officers. Despite offering bonuses of up to $15,000, the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) has found it challenging to hire and retain jail guards, thanks in large part to long shifts and poor working conditions; the more guards leave, the worse the problem becomes.

Last month, DAJD director Allen Nance provided more details about what that $3.5 million would pay for. In a memo to all DAJD staff, Nance explained that the department is “pursuing a contract with the South Correctional Entity (SCORE),” a misdemeanor jail in Des Moines, to house some of the 1,250 or so people currently incarcerated at the downtown Seattle jail. SCORE is a public development authority, a type of government-funded nonprofit, that was established to provide jail services to seven South King County cities. The department plans to start in January by moving about 50 people to the jail about 15 miles south of Seattle, a number that could grow to 150 later on. SCORE, which provides jail services for six south King County cities, has a capacity of 802.

“The partnership with SCORE is being piloted to see if it might ease the workload on our staff and prevent a need to expand booking at the [Maleng Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent], given the Department’s limited resources and our current reliance on overtime to cover shifts,” Nance continued. About 260 people are currently incarcerated at the RJC, which is only accepting bookings by appointment. “At the same time, we will continue to explore other strategies to run our two jails more efficiently.”

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DAJD, said that “if we finalize an agreement with SCORE, we would prioritize people with extended time between court dates or those who are serving jail sentences.” King County’s jails would “continue to house people with greater medical needs and those deemed to pose a higher security risk,” he said.

Most of those housed in the downtown jail face felony charges; about 9 percent have been charged with misdemeanors. Although SCORE is currently a misdemeanor jail, its director, Devon Schrum, said the facility is “constructed and staffed to hold any classification of arrestee, including those accused of felony-level offenses.”

Defense attorneys and the jail guards’ union—odd bedfellows that have increasingly found themselves on the same side of issues related to crowding and understaffing at the jail—oppose the move. “We’re already facing a staffing crisis,” said Dennis Folk, head of the King County Corrections Guild. “Let’s say we’re housing 50 or 100 inmates down there, and now they need to go to the hospital—who’s going to be responsible for taking them? How are they supposed to get to the court if that work falls back on us?”

Haglund said the department has not worked out an agreement with SCORE to transport residents from Des Moines to Seattle; according to a rate sheet provided by Schrum, the jail charges $75 an hour for transportation by an officer.

The union that represents King County Department of Public Defense employees, SEIU 925, has similar concerns. Molly Gilbert, the the president of the SEIU 925 chapter that represents DPD staffers, said SCORE’s location and hours of operation could make it hard for attorneys to meet with clients and for clients to get to the downtown Seattle courthouse for in-person hearings. Bonnie Linville, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services,

In a recent survey of public defenders, many attorneys said moving downtown jail inmates to SCORE would make it more challenging for them to manage their caseloads, because they would have to drive between three jails instead of two; others, however, said SCORE has more reliable video visitation than either King County jail. The union has filed a demand to bargain over the change—the first time the union has ever moved to challenge a management decision through bargaining outside the regular contract negotiation process, Gilbert said.

Schrum says SCORE —unlike the King County system—is fully staffed and has had little trouble recruiting “highly trained” guards and staff. But some who oppose relocating inmates point to previous evidence of poor conditions at the jail, including a highly publicized 2018 case in which a woman experiencing a mental health crisis died in her cell later spending four days consuming huge amounts of water.

In 2016, Disability Rights Washington’s AVID (Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities) Jail Project released a report outlining significant problems with SCORE’s treatment of inmates with mental illness, including excessive use of solitary confinement and lack of access to psychiatric care. The report also outlined steps SCORE had taken to address some of the issues AVID raised; a spokesman for DRW said he could not speak to current conditions in the jail.

Many advocates say relocating 50 (or even 150) people from the downtown jail to SCORE will do little to address deteriorating conditions in the jail. For months, people in the jail have limited access to medical care, showers, laundry, and recreation outside their cells.

“There are requirements that people be provided adequate medical and mental health care, be taken to outside medical appointments and be allowed a certain amount of out of cell time per day and it is clear that the jail is not meeting those requirements. Pursuant to the Hammer settlement agreement, the jail is required to meet certain benchmarks regarding each of these issues.”—La Rond Baker, legal director, ACLU of Washington

“We’re hearing routinely from folks that they’re sending [requests for physical or mental health care] that aren’t getting answered, or the answer is, ‘sorry, we’re understaffed,'” said Bonnie Linville, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which provides legal aid to low-income clients. “We’re also hearing about fewer transfers and delays in transferring people to Harborview [Medical Center] for necessary care, which is really concerning.” Suicide has become such a problem in the jail that the department has removed bedsheets from all cells. The county’s 2023-2024 budget includes $1 million for “jump protection panels” at the jail.

With conditions inside the jail at a breaking point, advocates say the county may be in violation of an agreement it signed almost 25 years ago called the Hammer settlement. In 1988, the ACLU of Washington represented a man named Calvin Hammer who said he was denied medical care after an assault at the jail left him with a badly fractured skull. Eventually, the ACLU and King County reached a settlement that required the county to increase staffing and improve conditions at the downtown jail. Now, the ACLU believes the county may be in violation of the Hammer settlement, and could challenge the county’s compliance with the agreement.

La Rond Baker, the legal director for the ACLU-WA, declined to get into the details of any potential legal challenge. However, she said, “many of the conditions at the jail show that the jail is out of compliance with the Hammer settlement.” For example, “there are requirements that people be provided adequate medical and mental health care, be taken to outside medical appointments and be allowed a certain amount of out of cell time per day and it is clear that the jail is not meeting those requirements. … Pursuant to the Hammer settlement agreement, the jail is required to meet certain benchmarks regarding each of these issues.”

Continue reading “King County Plans to Move Up to 150 Inmates to Address Capacity Issues at Downtown Jail”

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

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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.

In a Sign of Worsening Conditions, Understaffed King County Jail Has Lacked Water for a Week

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Jail in downtown Seattle has lacked potable water since Thursday, September 29, and people incarcerated at the jail have been relying on bottled water for the past week, PubliCola has confirmed.

According to a spokesman for the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD), the county “has had the tap water in the jail tested multiple times in multiple locations, and all tests have indicated that the water meets EPA standards for drinking water. However, since the water is still cloudy, we are providing bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes.” The jail has “ample supplies of bottled water,” the spokesman said.

According to the president of the King County Corrections Guild, Dennis Folk, inmates are allowed one bottle of water at a time and can trade in empties for new bottles. This restriction, Folk said, makes it less likely that people will melt the plastic bottles to turn them into weapons or fill them with urine or feces to fling at guards or other inmates.

However, it’s unclear how frequently people inside the jail are actually getting access to water.

“What we are hearing is that there is rationing of water and people are having to choose between hydration or hygiene, and there just isn’t enough water available,” the president of the public defense union (SEIU 925), Molly Gilbert, said.

A spokesman for the jail said there is no rationing and that DADJ offers water “at every meal, periodically throughout the day, during medication delivery, and per request of jail residents.”

PubliCola reported the news exclusively on Twitter Thursday morning.

According to an email from King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) director Allen Nance to the King County Department of Public Defense, the department became aware of “complaints related to water quality” last week (according to Folk, the water coming out of the taps was brown). “We immediately implemented bottled water for all persons in custody and staff out of an abundance of caution,” Nance wrote.

“We have women in the jail who are having their period and they’re unable to get a change of underwear for the week,” Gilbert said. “It’s inhumane, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a clear liability for the county.”—Molly Gilbert, SEIU 925, King County Public Defense Chapter

Water testing found high “turbidity,” or cloudiness—basically, foreign particles in water that can indicate the presence of disease-causing microbes—and the water has remained off since then while the county has tried to figure out the source of the problem. In his email, Nance said the brown water may have resulted from faulty screens on the water heaters at the jail. According to the DAJD spokesman, the county has sent samples of the water for testing and expects to get the results back tomorrow.

The ongoing water shutoff is just the most recent example of ongoing problems at the jail that have severely limited residents’ access to medical care, attorneys, and time outside their cells. In a survey conducted by the ACLU of Washington in late September, public defenders reported that their clients often lacked access to basic medical care, such as treatment for injuries and dental care, and medication, including everything from insulin to psychiatric meds. When there aren’t enough guards on duty, Gilbert said, escorts for the jail nurses who hand out medication are often the first thing to go. Responding to Gilbert’s statements, the jail spokesman said there are “few if any instances when medication passes would be affected by corrections officer staffing” and that the jail delivers medication even during staffing shortages.

Most of the ongoing issues at the jail stem directly from a worsening staffing shortage, combined with a growing population as the county books more people on misdemeanor charges and transfers inmates from the Regional Justice Center in Kent, whose setup requires more guards per incarcerated person. In recent months, staffing shortages at the jail have led to frequent lockdowns, in which people are locked in their cells 23 hours a day, and defense attorneys report waiting hours to meet with clients, who have to be escorted to meeting areas by guards who are in short supply.

In January, the unions for the public defenders and jail guards joined forces to ask county officials to reduce the population at the downtown jail. Although that request was in response to COVID outbreaks, the staffing shortages that were at issue back then have only worsened in the intervening months.

“We have women in the jail who are having their period and they’re unable to get a change of underwear for the week,” Gilbert said. “It’s inhumane, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s a clear liability for the county.” The jail spokesman disputes this and says jail inmates regularly receive fresh clothes regularly, and can get clean underwear whenever they want.

King County offers hiring bonuses for guards at both the adult and youth detention centers, but hiring hasn’t kept up with attrition as guards burn out and leave. Booking fewer people into the jail would be one solution—about half the people in the downtown jail are booked for three days or less—but that idea is politically unpopular at a time when perceptions of crime have increased. One candidate for King County Prosecutor, Federal Way mayor Jim Ferrell, recently signed on to an “open letter”  from eight South King County mayors calling for more felony bookings and “incarceration to ensure… public safety.”

County Plans Emergency Walk-In Centers for Behavioral Health Crises

King County Executive Dow Constantine, flanked by Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall and state Rep. Nicole Macri
King County Executive Dow Constantine, flanked by Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall and state Rep. Nicole Macri

By Erica C. Barnett

On Thursday morning, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his plan to introduce a plan to expand services for people experiencing behavioral health crisis as part of his 2023 budget proposal in September. The plan will attempt to address the worsening shortage of short- and long-term treatment for people with behavioral health conditions and substance use disorder. As of this year, Constantine said, the county has lost a third of its residential behavioral health care beds, “and it would have been more but for our intervention. And more facilities are potentially closing their doors in the months ahead.”

Currently, there is only one 16-bed crisis stabilization unit—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center—in the entire county. A person in crisis who needs help right away can call 911 or the new 988 mental health crisis line, but people who need immediate, intensive intervention generally have nowhere to go but emergency rooms, which are ill-equipped to deal with behavioral health crises, or jail.

:I’m glad we’re here to be talking about potentially expanding [the crisis] system, but we can’t just expand it. We need to fix what is broken. And if I’m being honest with you, I am part of what’s broken, and every other behavioral health worker, because the system has put us in an impossible situation.” —DESC registered nurse Naomi Morris

Gesturing toward the King County Correctional Facility across the street from the county building where the press conference was taking place, Constantine noted that of about 1,530 people in the county jail, more than 600, or two in five, are in some kind of treatment for behavioral health conditions. Many of those have been jailed for crimes that are often related to mental health conditions and poverty, such as theft, trespassing, and assault.

“We cannot accept having the county jail as the main place for people to get behavioral health care. And right now, the fact is that the jail across the street is the second largest behavioral health facility in the state of Washington. We can’t accept relying on law enforcement to solve what is ultimately the health care challenge,” Constantine said.

Constantine did not provide any details about the scope or cost of his plan, which the county is working on as part of a coalition with other elected officals—including state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—and health care providers. However, he did indicate that in addition to new walk-in crisis centers, it will include better pay for behavioral health-care workers, such as Naomi Morris, a registered nurse who works for DESC.

“I’m glad we’re here to be talking about potentially expanding [the crisis] system,” Morris said, “but we can’t just expand it. We need to fix what is broken. And if I’m being honest with you, I am part of what’s broken, and every other behavioral health workerm because the system has put us in an impossible situation.” Morris said a coworker recently had to take unpaid leave to deal with the trauma caused by their job as a case manager and found themselves unable to meet their basic needs because “the amount of money they make [is] barely above what the clients we serve get.”

Earlier this year, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority asked the city to pay for salary increases for people who work for agencies like DESC; the KCRHA also funds its own in-house outreach team and pays them significantly more than nonprofit employees doing similar work.

Barriers to Access, Changing Drug Trends Hinder Jail-Based Treatment Program

The number of patients in the King County jail’s opioid use disorder treatment program has nearly tripled since the start of 2021.

By Paul Kiefer

The number of patients in the King County jail’s opioid use disorder treatment program has nearly tripled since January 2021, reaching a high of 156 people by March 31. That trend is showing no sign of slowing, particularly as both Seattle’s mayor and city attorney suggest using the jail as an entry point into addiction treatment as part of the city’s new public safety strategy.

At a press conference last month, Mayor Bruce Harrell commented that “one of the best times to treat someone with drug and alcohol problems, unfortunately, could be when they’re arrested.” Two weeks later, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison launched an initiative to prioritize booking “high utilizers of the criminal justice system” into jail, ostensibly to “intervene” in their behavioral health crises before finding them treatment opportunities.

But the growing number of patients, staffing shortages at both the jail and community-based care providers, and changes in the landscape of drug use in King County limit the jail’s ability to address the ever-worsening addiction crises that sent overdose deaths skyrocketing in the past three years.

King County’s jails first began offering medication-based treatment for opioid addiction in 2018, allowing patients who had existing prescriptions for buprenorphine—an opioid used to manage and treat addiction—to receive their prescriptions while in jail. In 2019, the jail began connecting new patients to buprenorphine, and in March 2021, Jail Health Services removed a cap on the number of patients allowed in the treatment program, opening buprenorphine access to anyone with a moderate to severe opioid addiction experiencing serious withdrawal in jail.

The program only offers short-term treatment. When a patient is scheduled for release, jail health staff meet with them to develop a plan for continuing their treatment outside of jail; that plan can include a next-day appointment at a medical or addiction treatment provider, a shelter referral, or a seven-day supply of buprenorphine, along with a separate supply of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. In theory, jail health staff can also offer a “warm hand-off” to community-based addiction treatment providers when their patients leave the jail—a way to start a patient’s release on the right foot.

“When people lack housing and other basic needs, immediately when they’re released from jail, they often go back into survival mode. If we can provide some sort of outreach at the time of release, and if we build trust with people by showing up when we promised to show up, we find that people are much more willing and able to follow through with a care plan.”—Michelle Conley, director of integrated care for REACH

Until January 2021, jail health staff weren’t alerted when a patient was scheduled for release, making “warm hand-offs” difficult. Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a staffing shortage left the jail’s opioid treatment nurses stretched too thin to connect their patients to community-based healthcare providers when they leave jail. Sharon Bogan, a spokeswoman for King County Public Health, which oversees Jail Health Services, says that two of the five positions on the opioid use disorder treatment team are currently vacant, leaving the remaining staffers to handle excessive caseloads. The ideal ratio of health staff to patients in the treatment program, she added, is 1 to 25, meaning that the jail could need to add positions to the treatment team if the number of patients grows.

For now, says Michelle Conley, the director of integrated care for REACH, the jail’s release plans for patients in the opioid use treatment program are often at risk of falling apart from the outset. “There are a lot of providers who can and do receive people from the jail, but there’s often a disconnect in terms of getting someone to treatment,” she said.

“A large part of that,” Conley added, “is because Medicaid does not reimburse the costs of going to the jail picking a patient up and transporting them to housing or medical care.” Conley also noted that after leaving jail, a person may need to reactivate their Medicaid benefits to pay for prescriptions and doctor’s visits—a process that can take days or weeks.

Without a direct hand-off to a care provider, Conley said, people leaving jail may not have an easy way to make it to an appointment at a treatment facility or clinic. “When people lack housing and other basic needs, immediately when they’re released from jail, they often go back into survival mode,” she said. “If we can provide some sort of outreach at the time of release, and if we build trust with people by showing up when we promised to show up, we find that people are much more willing and able to follow through with a care plan.”

For people leaving jail, the medications used to treat opioid use disorder are available both through appointments and through a daytime hotline run by the nonprofit healthcare provider NeighborCare. Dr. Matt Perez, a primary care clinician for NeighborCare, says that the current system is a vast improvement from the recent past. “Up until about 10 years ago, the jails offered no treatment for addiction whatsoever, so people were just going into withdrawal and leaving with nothing,” he said. And while about one-fifth of buprenorphine patients at his clinic—including people leaving the jail—don’t show up for their appointments, Perez says that his ability to coordinate with jail health staff to provide buprenorphine to people after their release is improving.

But while no care providers dispute that giving people in jail access to medications like buprenorphine is better than nothing at all, some addiction treatment specialists say that the current medication-based treatments for opioid addiction offered to people in jail don’t match current trends in drug use. Dr. Cyn Kotarski, the medical director for the Public Defender Association in Seattle, says that the spread of fentanyl as a cheaper and more potent replacement for opioids like heroin has rendered current medication-based treatments ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.

“It takes time for medical research to catch up to realities on the ground,” she said. “Drug use has changed so significantly in Seattle in the past three to five years—in other words, since we first started offering medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder to people in jail—that if we don’t try to rework our approach, we’re going to wind up offering only an obsolete program.”

One key problem, she said, is that standard doses of buprenorphine are substantially less potent than fentanyl, so fentanyl users who suddenly transition to buprenorphine in jail often experience serious and painful withdrawal—a problem that was less pronounced before fentanyl dominated the opioid market. “The vast majority of patients I see say they’re scared to take buprenorphine because of the withdrawal symptoms,” she said. “And as word spreads that switching the buprenorphine makes you sick, that creates a dangerous narrative. If we don’t set up our treatment programs properly, we can end up with a general consensus among people using opioids that buprenorphine is harmful because we’re not using the medication in a way that’s appropriate for fentanyl.”

But changing the dosage of buprenorphine to better match the strength of fentanyl would require experimentation—something that jail health staff can’t do. “Because of the strict controls around drugs to treat opioid use disorder, people are very hesitant to make any changes to dosage unless they get directions from above,” Kotarski said. Continue reading “Barriers to Access, Changing Drug Trends Hinder Jail-Based Treatment Program”

Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage

1. Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation on Thursday ending the requirement that parents of children in state-run juvenile detention centers pay for a portion of the cost of their child’s incarceration, a practice known as “parent pay.” The new law will also clear the debts of the roughly 240 families who collectively owed $1.1 million in unpaid custody fees to the state’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), which runs Washington’s three juvenile detention facilities. 

DCYF’s 2020-2021 budget assumed that the agency would take in $1.9 million in parent pay revenue over the past two years; Rachel Sottile, the president of the Center for Children and Youth Justice, a children’s rights organization in Seattle, told PubliCola that the agency was able to collect less than a quarter of that figure.

“First of all, DCYF can’t do if its job if it doesn’t have the resources it needs,” she said, “and secondly, parent pay created financial instability for parents that left a lot of youth cycling back into the criminal justice system.” She added that parents who did not pay their debts to DCYF risked facing contempt charges and possible jail time.

In a press release, DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter said he supported eliminating parent pay, calling the practice financially impractical and counterproductive. “It probably costs more to collect [fees from parents] than we bring in and may make it less likely for youth to reunify with their families, destabilizing their transition back to the community,” he said.

Along similar lines, the legislature voted this month to allow judges to waive most of the fines and restitution fees imposed on people convicted of crimes; that bill applies retroactively, opening the door for thousands of people who are currently in prison or who previously spent time in prison to petition courts to relieve them of debts that can present a hurdle to successful re-entry.

2. A 25-year-old man died at Harborview Medical Center after hanging himself in a cell at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle last week, marking the third death at the jail since the beginning of the year: an unusually high number for this point in the year, especially given the decline in the jail’s population during the pandemic. The deaths come as the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention continues to lose more corrections officers than it can hire, leaving some officers and other jail staff stretched thin.

Jail staff transferred the man to Harborview Medical Center after a guard found him unresponsive in a cell on March 10; he died from his injuries four days later. Court records indicate he was a trans man; the King County Superior Court referred to him using the last name Kostelak, and according to a source, he may have used the name Damian. Continue reading “Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage”

SPD Jails Shoplifters for Thefts as Small as $6.99; Pedersen Unilaterally Installs Bike Board Member; Helmet Law Overturned

1. Seattle police officers took part in a crackdown on retail theft at Target’s downtown Seattle store last week called “Operation New Day,” booking people suspected of shoplifting into the King County jail despite ongoing pandemic-related restrictions that limit booking to people arrested for violent crimes.

On Friday, plainclothes officers from the Seattle Police Department’s Community Response Group, a team that floats between the city’s four precincts to supplement patrol, were working with Target’s loss prevention team to identify people stealing merchandise, flagging them for uniformed officers waiting on the sidewalk outside.

Over the course of the day, officers arrested at least five people. One woman was booked into jail for stealing $6.99 worth of merchandise, while another man was booked for stealing vitamins, baby formula and other merchandise valued at more than $600, according to police reports. Two of the people arrested had previously spent time in the jail in the past year for misdemeanor assault or weapons offenses, among other charges. All of the people arrested on Friday have since been released from jail, though the woman booked for stealing $6.99 worth of merchandise was later charged with assault for hitting a Target employee—a detail not included in the original arrest report.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, King County Executive Dow Constantine limited booking at King County’s jails to people arrested for assaults, DUIs and firearms violations, and other high-priority offenses, with the goal of reducing the county’s jail population to stem the spread of the virus. However, Constantine allowed the jail to make exceptions when agencies that use the jail, including SPD, can argue convincingly that booking people for nonviolent crimes is necessary to protect public safety.

On Thursday, Constantine told PubliCola that the county has received and approved few requests for exceptions.

“Law enforcement agencies have been judicious about making them,” added Noah Haglund, a spokesman for King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. In order to receive an exemption, a law enforcement agency needs to submit a request before bringing arrestees to the jail. According to Haglund, the City of Seattle requested an exemption before booking the people arrested for shoplifting on Friday. Sergeant Randall Huserik, a spokesman for SPD, the bookings are intended to “deter the suspects” from committing crimes in the future.

2. Next week, the city council will vote to appoint Dr. Douglas Migden, a long-distance recreational cyclist who lives in the Queen Anne neighborhood, to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. Council transportation committee chair Alex Pedersen chose Migden for the board unilaterally after a five-month-long recruitment and nomination process in which the bike board interviewed dozens of candidates and ultimately selected land-use planner Anthony Avery for the seat.

Ryan Packer covered Pedersen’s decision to discard the bike board’s choice for the Seattle Bike Blog last week.

According to SBAB co-chair Sarah Udelhofen, the bike board has three top priorities when choosing new board members. They look for candidates with unique biking experiences (such as family cyclists and newer riders); those who offer “perspective from a community that has been underrepresented in or marginalized by the mainstream bike movement”; and people who are familiar with neighborhoods that are underrepresented on the board or that lack safe bike infrastructure. Historically, the mainstream bike movement has been dominated by white, male recreational cyclists who ride in the road.

“These commissions and boards have processes for how they make appointments. They review applications, do interviews, and so it can be frustrating when the folks that they have chosen through community process are not selected. And I understand why folks might feel demoralized when that happens.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

Avery did not respond to an email seeking comment on Pedersen’s decision. His LinkedIn page describes him as a member of Cascade Bicycle Club and an advocate against car-oriented streets—positions that put him at odds with some of Pedersen’s stated views on transportation planning. “I plan for people, not cars,” Avery wrote. “If you want to call it a war on cars, that’s fine. Each year over 35,000 Americans are killed by people driving motor vehicles. … In 2021, despite a commitment to Vision Zero, traffic-related deaths in the City of Seattle are on the rise.”

Pedersen advocated against a long-planned protected bike lane along 35th Avenue NE in his district, which former mayor Jenny Durkan killed after business owners complained about the loss of on-street parking spaces. He also opposed bike lanes on Eastlake, arguing that cyclists could simply veer back and forth between parallel “greenways” located on nearby streets. And before he was elected in 2019, Pedersen argued against the Move Seattle levy, among other reasons, because it funded safe bike lanes, which Pedersen argued are useless for “senior citizens, the disabled, single parents, parents of young children without transportation to school, and those juggling multiple jobs .”

After the city council discussed Migden’s appointment earlier this week, Councilmember Tammy Morales noted pointedly, “These commissions and boards have processes for how they make appointments. They review applications, do interviews, and so it can be frustrating when the folks that they have chosen through community process are not selected. And I understand why folks might feel demoralized when that happens.”

Udelhofen said the bike board plans “to be even more proactive with our timeline” for the next open seat, and will “start the process even earlier to ensure there is ample time for our recommended candidates to be reviewed, discussed, and approved in time for the 9/1/22 term start date.” She said that although the bike board is “disappointed with the lack of transparency around the selection and approval process, we have no qualms about Dr. Midgen’s qualifications for serving on SBAB” and look forward to his participation on the board.

3. The King County Board of Health voted on Thursday to repeal the county’s bicycle helmet requirement, responding to a push from bicycle advocates and civil liberties groups who pointed to data showing that police enforcing the law disproportionately targeted people of color and homeless people.

Continue reading “SPD Jails Shoplifters for Thefts as Small as $6.99; Pedersen Unilaterally Installs Bike Board Member; Helmet Law Overturned”

Court Delays Jail Commitments During COVID Outbreak, Sweeps Ramp Up to Pre-COVID Status Quo, North Seattle Councilmember Defends Density

1. Seattle Municipal Court judges are instructing people they convict of misdemeanors to report to jail two months after their sentencing hearing, a decision related to a staffing crisis at the jails brought on by a surge of COVID-19 cases among staff and inmates in January. The judges consulted with jail administrators, defense attorneys and prosecutors from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office before deciding to temporarily stem the flow of people from the municipal court to the jail on January 14. There may be some exceptions: Defendants who were already in custody when the municipal court sentenced them to additional jail time, for example, may remain in custody.

The judges’ decision came just as the unions representing King County’s public defenders and corrections officers joined forces to raise the alarm as COVID-19 infections surged among both jail staff and inmates, overwhelming the jails’ quarantine units and placing dozens of guards on sick leave. The ensuing shortage of staff left many inmates locked in their cells for 23 or more hours a day, sometimes missing court dates and deliveries of prescription medication. The two unions have asked King County courts, along with the county executive and prosecutor’s office, to take emergency measures to reduce the jail population in response to the outbreak, albeit with little success.

The judges’ decision won’t prevent police officers from booking people into jail to await trial for a misdemeanor offense, though people facing misdemeanor charges or convicted of misdemeanors make up a relatively small portion of King County’s jail population.

2. Homeless service providers and advocates are reporting a sharp uptick in the number of encampments scheduled for sweeps with 48 hours’ notice on the grounds that they constitute “obstructions” or hazards in the public right-of-way. In addition, some encampment removals are happening outside the official list that providers receive directly from the city. Former mayor Jenny Durkan dramatically increased the pace of this type of sweep, which does not require any offers of shelter or services.

The city’s official encampment removal schedule, which does not include all sweeps, calls for three encampment removals and two RV site “cleans” in each week of February. Outreach providers have routinely pointed out that the number of shelter beds available on any night for all homeless people citywide is typically around one or two. The largest encampment scheduled for an official removal in February is at Dexter Avenue and Denny Way, where the city estimates there are 20 tents.

After a press conference on public safety Friday, deputy mayor Tiffany Washington told PublICola that the apparent rise in encampment removals was the city returning to normal, before the CDC’s COVID guidelines led the city to stop removing encampments. “Last year, in the last six months of the year, we removed some of the largest encampments that we’ve ever seen in city history,” Washington said. “Now the ones we have left is Woodland Park. So of course you are going to see an increase in removals, because now we’ve addressed the largest encampments. So it may appear like there’s more removals happening just randomly, but actually, it’s just getting back on track to the rhythm that we had before COVID-19.”

Outreach providers have routinely pointed out that the number of shelter beds available on any night for all homeless people citywide is typically around one or two. The largest encampment scheduled for an official removal in February is at Dexter Avenue and Denny Way, where the city estimates there are 20 tents.

3. Washington mentioned Friday that the city and King County Regional Homelessness Authority are working closely with community groups, like the Phinney Ridge Community Council, to address conditions at Woodland Park. The encampment was one of a couple of hot topics that came up during a recent presentation by City Councilmember Dan Strauss to the Phinney council, whose members complained about feeling unsafe because of the presence of so many homeless people relatively near their houses.

At Woodland Park, the city is trying to do what amounts to a slow sweep—removing people one or two at a time as shelter becomes available while attempting to discourage new people from moving in. One way the city is doing this, Strauss said, is by creating a “by-name list” (a fancy term for: a list) of everyone living in the park; people who are not on that list because they moved in after it was created won’t get access to shelter and assistance. “It’s very important for us to have a firm list so that we are able to measure success,” Strauss said.

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The meeting didn’t get particularly rowdy, though, until the conversation turned to  legislation sponsored by state Rep. Jessica Bateman (D-22, Olympia) that would allow very low-rise density—duplexes, triplexes, and four-unit buildings—in single-family areas like of Phinney Ridge, currently no-go zones for most renters and anyone who can’t afford the median house price of just under $1 million.

The community council, like many such groups created in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a single-family preservationist movement that persists today, is dominated by white homeowners who purchased their houses decades before Seattle’s population growth and cost of living took off in the current century. Their main talking points were based in an understanding of Seattle and its population and politics that has not noticeably evolved in 30 years: Why can’t all the density go in the places that “already have plenty of capacity to take it?” Didn’t Strauss know that neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge have already “accepted capacity way beyond the growth targets”? Why do density proponents want to eliminate all the “$650,000 starter houses” like “most of us got into our homes ages ago”?* Continue reading “Court Delays Jail Commitments During COVID Outbreak, Sweeps Ramp Up to Pre-COVID Status Quo, North Seattle Councilmember Defends Density”

Hotel Shelter Closes, County Debates Jail Releases, State Mulls Human Services Mandate, and Harrell Appoints New Directors

1. On Friday, January 29, the Executive Pacific Hotel concluded its service as a homeless shelter. By the end of the day, the Low-Income Housing Institute had relocated almost everyone still living there to permanent housing, shelter, or another hotel. According to LIHI director Sharon Lee, just one resident declined to engage with agency staffers and returned to unsheltered homelessness. Overall, 79 of the 91 households (totaling 99 people living in the hotel as of last October moved (or will move) into permanent housing, five now live at one of LIHI’s tiny house villages, and one moved into transitional housing. Just six left without a specific destination. 

That’s a positive outcome, especially compared to the worst-case scenario: Dozens of people back out on the street in the coldest months of the year. But it isn’t the outcome former Mayor Jenny Durkan wanted when she agreed, reluctantly, to spend federal COVID relief dollars on the hotels. Under the administration’s ambitious, highly unrealistic plan, the hotels would serve as short-term way stations rather than traditional shelters. People would move in off the street, sign up for services, and move swiftly into market-rate housing using short-term  “rapid rehousing” subsidies as a bridge between living on the street and self-sufficiency. 

The reasons this ambitious plan was a failure were obvious from the beginning. Rapid rehousing works best for people who have few barriers to housing, such as people who recently became homeless because of job loss or another temporary condition. The hotel, in contrast, served many chronically homeless people with complex physical and mental health conditions that contributed to their homelessness, including people the city referred there during its regular encampment sweeps. “It was a poor design, because the people who were moved into the hotel did not match the profile of who would be successful in rapid rehousing,” Lee said.

By the end of its ten-month contract, LIHI and its rapid-rehousing partner, Catholic Community Services, had enrolled just 33 people in rapid rehousing. Enrollment, as we’ve reported, is just the beginning of a lengthy process that may not ultimately lead to housing.

At a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s homelessness committee meeting last Friday, committee chair Andrew Lewis said he hoped the city’s Human Services Department would provide “a pretty detailed after action report on the rapid rehousing function, to determine what lessons we can learn and transition over to the King County Regional Homelessness authority,” which has taken over HSD’s former responsibilities as the chief homelessness agency in the region.

2. The King County Council held a public hearing on Tuesday about several possible options to reduce the number of people in county jails in response to a surge of COVID-19 infections among inmates and staff. King County Executive Dow Constantine, the county prosecutor’s office, and King County courts all have a say in various aspects of who is booked into or released from jail.

The hearing centered on demands from unlikely allies: As case numbers skyrocketed in early January, the unions representing King County’s public defenders and correctional officers joined forces to sound the alarm about deteriorating jail conditions that have left inmates unable to attend court hearings and overworked guards sleeping in empty cells. The unions asked the county to immediately stop booking people into jail or issuing warrants for nonviolent offenses, and to release everyone currently held in jails for nonviolent offenses.

Elbert Aull, a felony attorney with the King County Department of Public Defense, told council members that the constant “churn” in and out of King County jails has exacerbated the spread of the virus behind bars. Aull added that many defendants will have their cases dismissed by a judge or dropped by a prosecutor once they make it to court. “Implementing booking restrictions would mean that people who are going to be released anyway won’t sit in jail for half a week while they wait for a judge or prosecutor to do the inevitable,” he said.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg countered that the county has already reduced the county’s jail population dramatically, from roughly 1,900 to 1,350, and argued that those who remain in jail are incarcerated for good reason. More than 70 percent of jail inmates in King County, Satterberg said, are charged with either a violent crime or a “serious” felony like violating a protection order; all but 12 of the 1,350 people in county custody face felony charges.

Council president Claudia Balducci, who previously ran the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, also argued that the council could hire more corrections officers. “Whatever we do temporarily will not be fixed long-term until we can get staffing to where it needs to be,” she said.

“It is always the department’s intent to provide excellent customer service,” DSHS director Babs Roberts told the committee, but “in order to provide the service levels this bill demands, DSHS must have adequate, modernized infrastructure and sufficient staffing levels in place, and we do not.”

3. The state Department of Social and Health Services responded briefly to legislation that would force the agency to improve access to its services during a meeting of the state house’s Housing, Human Services, and Veterans committee on Tuesday, but did not come out against the proposal. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Strom Peterson (D-21, Edmonds) would require DSHS to reduce phone hold times to 30 minutes or less, reopen its service centers to walk-in clients, and “ensure that clients may apply for and receive services in a manner that is suited to the clients’ needs, [including] needs related to technology, language, and ability.” If DSHS failed to meet any of those standards, the bill would prohibit the agency from cutting off clients’ benefits.

“It is always the department’s intent to provide excellent customer service,” DSHS director Babs Roberts told the committee, but “in order to provide the service levels this bill demands, DSHS must have adequate, modernized infrastructure and sufficient staffing levels in place, and we do not.” Last week, bill cosponsor Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) told PubliCola that she sympathized with the agency’s staffing crunch, but added that the agency has not asked the legislature for funding to help them recruit and hire more workers.

Catholic Community Services deputy director Dan Wise told the committee, which Peterson chairs, that the 4,000-employee organization she represents has faced challenges similar to those at DSHS. “I totally understand the difficulty of hiring and maintaining a trained workforce,” Wise said. But, she added, CCS has “continued to offer in-person services” throughout the pandemic. “It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been safe. It has been absolutely necessary,  because I know that if we limit our in-person service like DSHS has done, the people who fall thru the cracks are in the depths of poverty.” The bill is scheduled for a second committee hearing at 10am on Friday, February 4.

4. Mayor Bruce Harrell announced three new additions to his administration on Tuesday. Former mayoral candidate (and ex-state legislator) Jessyn Farrell, who endorsed Harrell after failing to make it through the 2021 mayoral primary, will head up the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, which deals with overall environmental policy in the city.

Markham McIntyre, the current vice president of the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the head of CASE, the Chamber’s Amazon-backed independent expenditure committee, will direct the Office of Economic Development. CASE sat out the most recent election after its attempt in 2019 to unseat left-leaning city council members, including Kshama Sawant, backfired spectacularly; in 2017, the business group spent more than $600,000 to help former mayor Jenny Durkan get elected.

Greg Wong, an attorney at Pacifica Law Group, will lead the Department of Neighborhoods. According to the announcement, Wong is a former schoolteacher who “led school levy campaigns, helped establish the City’s high-quality, affordable preschool program, and served in executive board roles with several community nonprofits.” He is the only one of the three directors announced Tuesday who will replace a permanent, rather than am interim, department head; former DON director Andrés Mantilla had already told the Harrell team that he was leaving prior to Tuesday’s announcement.

—Erica C. Barnett, Paul Kiefer