Tag: prisons

Public Safety Fizz: “Less-Lethal” Weapons Restrictions Move Forward, Heat Wave’s Impact on Prisons Examined, County Searches for New Police Oversight Head

The Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County (Flickr: Brewbrooks; Reproduced with a Creative Commons License)

1. The Seattle City Council’s public safety committee voted out the latest version of legislation limiting the Seattle Police Department’s use of ‘less-lethal weapons’ on Tuesday, sending the embattled bill to the full council with a ‘do pass’ recommendation. If adopted, the bill would prohibit SPD from using five ‘less-lethal’ weapons, including blast balls, and place new restrictions on officers’ use of tear gas, pepper-ball launchers and pepper spray.

Last summer, the council passed an ordinance that would have prohibited police officers from using tear gas, pepper spray, blast balls and other ‘less-lethal’ weapons for crowd control.

After the US Department of Justice warned that the bill might lead officers to resort to more serious uses of force to control protests, Federal District Court Judge James Robart—who oversees reforms to SPD as part of an ongoing agreement between the US Department of Justice and the city of Seattle known as the consent decree—issued a temporary restraining order preventing it from taking effect. The version of the bill that passed on Tuesday reflects months of input from Seattle’s police oversight bodies, the DOJ, and the monitoring team appointed by Judge Robart to act as the eyes and ears of the consent decree.

Responding to the monitoring team’s concerns that the original bill would prevent officers from targeting small groups of people committing acts of violence at protests, the new bill outright bans less-targeted weapons such as blast balls and ultrasonic cannons while allowing officers to use more targeted weapons against individual people. The ordinance would also allow SPD to use pepper spray and tear gas to move crowds when twelve or more people in the crowd are engaging in violence—a legal standard that SPD might be able to skirt because of the difficulties of measuring the scale of violence within a crowd after the fact.

Although the committee voted to send the bill to the full council, that won’t happen immediately. Instead, Herbold opted to wait for the results of a hearing before Judge Robart on August 10 to review Seattle’s compliance with the consent decree, giving the council an opportunity for the council to hear more feedback on the bill.

2. Washington’s Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO), the oversight agency for the state’s Department of Corrections, issued a brief report on Tuesday describing conditions inside the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County during the record-breaking heat wave two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the DOC is also preparing to address Washington’s falling prison population—4,000 empty beds statewide, and a more than 50 percent decline in new prisoners since last year—by closing some units.

An OCO staffer who visited the prison on June 28 found substantial differences between conditions in the four different units they visited. In the prison’s Intensive Management Unit, temperatures in hallways remained below 80 degrees; in contrast, the investigator, Matthias Gydé, found cells in the Twin Rivers Unit, which houses more than 800 people, in which some surfaces reached nearly 100 degrees.

The unit-to-unit variations in temperature were partially the result of inconsistent cooling systems across the prison system. The Intensive Management Unit is outfitted with an HVAC system, whereas the Twin Rivers Unit relies on a vent that pumps air from the building’s roof to cool its common areas and cells. Gydé also noted that the Twin Rivers Unit’s skylights and cell windows contributed to the high temperatures. The DOC relaxed rules to allow inmates to cover their windows, but the skylights in the building’s common areas remained uncovered during the heat wave. Continue reading “Public Safety Fizz: “Less-Lethal” Weapons Restrictions Move Forward, Heat Wave’s Impact on Prisons Examined, County Searches for New Police Oversight Head”

No Shelter In Place Order, But More Admonishments for Grandma, From Gov. Inslee as COVID Crisis Continues

Gov. Jay Inslee declined once again on Friday to issue a legally binding “shelter-in-place” order requiring all Washingtonians to stay at home and avoid going to work or the store unless absolutely necessary, but said that if people continue to defy the existing direction to avoid gathering in groups, self-isolate when possible, and stay six feet away from other people, he will consider taking stronger action. Earlier this week, Inslee ordered all restaurants, bars, and other nonessential businesses to close except for takeout customers; banned gatherings of more than 50 people; and urged everyone over 60 or with compromised immune systems to stay inside and avoid contact with other people.

“I won’t be issuing any legally binding orders today, but that does not mean that we might not be back here soon to make further legally binding orders,” Inslee said. “And we understand that perhaps the force of law will not be necessary if Washingtonians act with the force of compassion, with the force of responsibility [and with] the sense that we are all in this together.”

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Some groups—and some parts of the state—appear to be hearing that message louder than others. Using traffic on toll roads as an easily verifiable proxy for how many people are carrying on life as usual, Inslee noted that while traffic on SR 99 (through downtown Seattle), SR 520 (Seattle to Bellevue) and I-405 (the Eastside suburbs) were down, traffic on SR167 (Renton to Auburn), I-5 through Lakewood, on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and through Spokane had barely budged. “We remain concerned that some in our state are not taking the measures that are absolutely necessary to preserve health and life and limb in the state of Washington,” he said.

“We are all potential transmitters of this virus and we all, to some varying degree, are potential victims of this virus, and if anyone is living a normal life today, you are not doing what you need to do to save the lives of people in this state.”

The governor repeated his admonition that “grandma” and “your 18-year-old” need to be told that they can’t go out and get together with friends even if they want to. On Monday, Grandma was not supposed to go to “art galleries” or come in close contact with her grandkids; today, Inslee warned against “coffee klatches” and “sewing needle get-togethers.”

Friday’s announcement did not include any news about financial assistance for small businesses or renters, who will still be on the hook for rent as soon as the 30-day statewide eviction ban expires. (In Seattle, the eviction ban is for 60 days). Nor did Inslee mention any new social-distancing measures for homeless people living in shelters or people confined to mental hospitals and jails.

Inslee did make one brief mention of the state’s prison population. Among the supplies that are slowly making their way to Washington’s hospitals, Inslee said, will be 650,000 disposable gowns, “and we think we’re going to be able to make some of these gowns in our prison industry, actually,” Inslee said. His office did not immediately respond to a followup question about the use of prison labor—which has been controversial in other states—to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.