Tag: King County Jail

Jail Guard Falsified Security Check Prior to Inmate Suicide; Candidate Proposes Shipping Homeless Out of Seattle

1. King County Jail Guard Falsified Records Surrounding Inmate Suicide

A correctional officer at the King County jail in downtown Seattle failed to do a required security check less than two hours before a 47-year-old man with “a history of mental health issues” committed suicide in his cell last year, then falsified a record to make it appear that he had performed the check, PubliCola has learned.

Disciplinary records from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention confirm that the guard, Emmanuel Palaita, did perform a check about an hour before the inmate, Keith Denegal, was found dead in his cell in the early morning of February 20, 2022. However, Palaita failed to do the previous mandatory check, leaving Denegal alone in his cell for more than an hour and a half, in violation of jail rules requiring checks at least once an hour. An investigator concluded that Palaita’s “failure to act endangered the safety of the inmate population he was responsible for.”

Because of the fraudulent log, investigators found Palaita had violated department policy, falsified documents, caused loss or injury to the county or public, and breached jail security. He was never disciplined, however, because he left his shift and never came back, going on leave for several weeks before turning in his official resignation more than a month after walking off the job. According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, Palaita never responded to notices about the internal investigation, and declined a hearing after the investigation to clear his name.

Because Palaita falsified a DAJD record, the department forwarded his name to the King County Prosecutor’s office for inclusion on the county’s Brady list—a list of law enforcement officers whose testimony in court is suspect because they have a history of dishonesty.

Since 2021, nine people have died “unexpectedly” at the jail, including five who committed suicide. Haglund said the department “has taken several important steps since last year to protect jail residents against self-harm,” including retrofits to remove gaps between beds and walls, limiting the distribution of over the counter medication, and increased suicide prevention training.

Since 2021, eight DAJD employees have been disciplined for falsifying security checks, Haglund said.

Because Palaita falsified a DAJD record, the department forwarded his name to the King County Prosecutor’s office for inclusion on the county’s Brady list—a list of law enforcement officers whose testimony in court is suspect because they have a history of dishonesty.

PubliCola has also determined that after Palaita left the county last February, he applied to be a Seattle firefighter, although it does not appear the department has hired him. According to records maintained by the city’s Public Safety Civil Service Commission, Palaita passed all the tests required for placement on the Seattle Fire Department’s Firefighter Register, one of the first steps toward becoming a firefighter in Seattle, and he will remain on the list until June 2024.

We have reached out to the fire department for more information about Palaita’s application and whether the department takes the Brady list into consideration when hiring firefighters.

2.  Here’s a Bold New Idea from Westneat’s Favorite Candidate: “Triage” Homeless People Into “Open Space” in King County

On Wednesday, the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat posted a layup column lightly mocking “the good, the bad, the bizarre ideas” coming from some of the candidates who are unlikely to make it through this year’s August 1 primary. Among the “out-there ideas” Westneat chose for mockery: Taxing spray paint to stop graffiti; building campgrounds for homeless people around the city, including one where people could use fentanyl (“imagine the community meetings,” Westneat snorts) and using AI to audit city departments for waste. “Their ideas,” Westneat chuckles, are like “Seattle satire.”

Given his interest in oddball ideas, it’s strange that Westneat—who says he’s been attending forums and debates all around the city—failed to mention any of the bold new proposals from a candidate he helped boost to prominence two years ago: Kenneth Wilson, who’s running for the open seat in District 4. In 2021, when Wilson was running against council incumbent Teresa Mosqueda, Westneat wrote that he, “stands out in the crowd”  being “being boring and competent.” Westneat was thoroughly charmed by Wilson’s “dorky” engineer vibe, and praised him for his back-to-basics campaign focused on “mismanagement,” government waste, and “building housing for the homeless faster.”

So you’d think Wilson’s big idea this year would be right up Westneat’s alley. Wilson wants to fix homelessness with a “triage” system that will take homeless people off the streets of Seattle and relocate them to an as-yet-unidentified piece of land somewhere in King County, providing recycling bins for them to store their belongings while they “move along in the right path with us.”

“We could do something with triage, especially with King County and their big resources in land. And we would actually move and get these people on the path that’s away from drugs, it’s away from the challenges of the city,” Wilson said at a recent forum.

“There’s so many people in [Seattle] who’ve got mental issues and things like that,” he continued. “In King County, we have a lot of open space, beautiful areas where we can actually make a difference in people’s lives, get them away from the challenges that are making the addictions, causing some of the mental health spill-out, where the damage is coming to our community.”

Wilson, unlike the candidates Westneat poked fun at this week, has a decent shot of making it through the primary, thanks in part to the credibility Westneat’s column gave him during his first campaign. As of Wednesday, he had raised more money than any other candidate in his race.

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.”

Over Protests, King County Prepares to Transfer 60 to Des Moines Jail

Former city attorney candidate and public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy testifies: “The people that are [in jail] cannot afford to buy their freedom. That is why they are there. “
By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, the King County Council held off on a decision on whether to approve a contract that would move up to 150 men living at the downtown jail to the South Correctional Entity (SCORE), a non-county-owned jail in Kent, after several council members said they had concerns about the scope of the agreement, access to visitors and attorneys at SCORE, and the use of additional jail space to address persistent problems at the downtown jail, where the population and average length of stay have increased.

As PubliCola reported last year, the county’s approved 2023 budget includes $3.5 million for a contract between the county and SCORE. The agreement to move an initial 60 people, which the council will vote on tomorrow, April 4, is that contract.

During a lengthy public comment period at last week’s council meeting, attorneys, advocates, and people who had been incarcerated asked the council to reject the agreement, arguing that moving people from one jail to another would not address the underlying problems at the jail, where six people died—four of them by suicide—last year.

The proposed agreement includes a list of conditions that would make a person ineligible for transfer to SCORE. Several commenters, including a former psychiatric evaluations specialist at SCORE, said it was easy for people to fall through the cracks or develop mental health conditions in jail.

“Your choice is not between overloading SCORE and overloading the King County Jail,” public commenter Madeleine Pfeiffer said. “Just three years ago, you were faced with a public health crisis and the King County Jail and you reduce the population by 50 percent in a matter of days—why not now? Why aren’t the deaths in the King County jail a crisis now that warrants the reduction of population there?”

Several commenters noted that SCORE has also seen its share of high-profile deaths, including that of Damaris Rodriguez, a woman with mental illness who died after four days in solitary confinement; her family received $2 million in a partial settlement with the jail. According to a staff memo, the county “intends to contract with SCORE to house people who do not have serious mental or physical health issues … low-level, healthy people[.]”

The proposed agreement includes a list of conditions that would make a person ineligible for transfer to SCORE, including people who have attempted suicide in the past or shown suicidal ideation in the 72 hours before booking and people displaying a “current psychotic episode.” But several commenters, including a former psychiatric evaluations specialist at SCORE, said it was easy for people to fall through the cracks or develop mental health conditions in jail.

County budget director Dwight Dively told the council the executive branch had issues with several amendments council members proposed to make the agreement more palatable, including restrictions on how many people could be moved to SCORE without additional council approval and an amendment that would require SCORE to meet the conditions the Department of Public Defense says it requires to adequately represent their clients housed there. Dively called these amendments “problematic”—in the first case, because the county is continuing to jail more people for longer periods, and in the second, because “different jails operate in different ways.”

The council will meet and vote on the agreement at its meeting at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon.

“High Utilizers” Report Embraces Jail as Solution to Addiction and Crime

By Erica C. Barnett

When City Attorney Ann Davison announced her “high utilizers initiative” last year, she said it would go beyond previous attempts to punish people who commit misdemeanors by connecting them to case management, treatment, and other services. In reality, according to a report from Davison’s office, the initiative has only managed to temporarily incapacitate some people by locking them in the understaffed downtown jail, a “solution” to crimes like shoplifting and trespassing that does nothing to address the root causes that lead people to use drugs, steal from stores, and act out in public.

The report appears to feature a lot of hard numbers, but a closer look reveals that many are based on assumptions about how individual people would behave—assumptions that would undoubtedly be altered by effective interventions like housing, mental health care, and addiction treatment focused on harm reduction rather than coercion.

According to the report, the high utilizers list included 168 people over the last year—all individuals who have had at least 12 misdemeanor referrals to the city attorney’s office over the prior year, and at least one in the most recent eight months. Of those, 142 were booked into the downtown jail for misdemeanors or warrants, under a special exception to jail rules that have eliminating booking for most misdemeanors. On average, each “high utilizer” served 117 days in jail in jail last year—nearly four months per person.

In January and February 2022, before the high utilizer initiative went into effect,  the average daily population at the downtown jail was 910; for the same period this year, it was 1,220. The increase is the result of a complex mix of factors, but jailing 142 people for low-level misdemeanors is undoubtedly among them.

Because most of the people on the high utilizers list ended up incarcerated, the report notes, they ended up fewer crimes than they had in previous years, averaging 2.7 misdemeanor referrals per year compared to a pre-initiative average of 6.3. This, the report says, is proof the initiative is working: “The principal reason for the significant drop in high utilizer criminal activity was that they were quickly held accountable and booked into jail for their criminal activity,” the report says. “Holding high utilizers accountable for repeat criminal conduct is the game-changer that reduced their impact on the City.”

Already, these numbers are speculative—who can say, for example, whether a “high utilizer” who received housing and case management, rather than blunt-force punishment, would have gone on to commit their own “average” number of misdemeanors? The report veers further into extrapolation and guesswork with an “estimate” that locking people on the list up for misdemeanors has prevented “over 750 criminal police referrals reflecting many thousands of criminal acts.” If this is true (and if “high utilizers” are really superpredators who deserve harsher treatment, including exclusion from community court), the city’s overall misdemeanor rate should have declined appreciably. Yet according to the Seattle Police Department’s 2022 crime report, misdemeanor theft (which includes shoplifting and theft from buildings) went up 5 percent last year.

The report includes “examples of reduced public safety impact” identifying some of the high utilizers by first name and last initial, making them easily identifiable—something PubliCola has not done when writing about the initiative in an effort to avoid re-traumatizing people who may have been targets of negative media attention. It also lists people, by name, who “absconded” from mandatory treatment for their addictions or died during the period covered by the report.

Not surprisingly, the report also concludes that people “failed” to follow through with coercive residential treatment, which has an extremely low success rate, particularly for people with co-occurring mental illness and those experiencing homelessness. Even people who voluntarily enter residential treatment for opiate use disorder are likely to leave against medical advice, and the vast majority of people who enter traditional residential treatment relapse—facts that ought to argue in favor of different solutions, rather than more of the same.

According to Davison’s report, though, the problem is that the people on her list just aren’t “ready” to accept the treatment they’re offered.

Image from original high utilizers initiative announcement

“While there were a small handful of success stories, the great majority of times in which out-of-custody addiction treatment services were offered and accepted, the defendant fled within the first 24 hours,” the report says. “At least five high utilizers absconded on more than one occasion when they were given a chance to address their substance use disorders with treatment. … That leads us to the conclusion that most high utilizers are not ready to go direct to out-of-custody, voluntary addiction treatment programs.”

“If individuals stabilize during in-custody time, there is an opportunity to successfully graduate the individual to out-of-custody residential treatment after they had demonstrated active participation,” the report concludes.

King County does offer medication for opiate dependency behind bars—an evidence-based solution that, unfortunately, doesn’t work long-term if a person doesn’t have immediate access to equivalent treatment when they’re released. As we’ve reported, the county’s jail-based treatment programs suffer from the same lack of staffing that has led the ACLU to sue the county over inmates’ lack of access to basic physical and mental health care; jail-based treatment also has the best chance of succeeding if people can immediately access housing and health care when they’re released, something the jail system is poorly equipped to provide.

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.

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


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.