Tag: solitary confinement

County Police Oversight Office Expands, Campaign for Council President Begins, State Still Using Solitary Confinement Cells for COVID Quarantine

1. King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO), which audits King County Sheriff’s Office policies and reviews misconduct investigations by the sheriff’s office, is set to grow next year after the King County Council added two new positions to the office—a first step, OLEO Director Tamer Abouzeid said, in his long-term plans to expand the responsibilities and reach of the office.

County voters approved a charter amendment in 2015 empowering OLEO to investigate misconduct and serious uses of force by sheriff’s officers, but the county’s contract with the King County Police Officers’ Guild—the union representing most of the rank-and-file sheriff’s officers—stripped OLEO of most of its investigative authority in 2020. The office is now mostly an advisory body.

Last year, OLEO flagged problems with objectivity or thoroughness in five of the 56 use-of-force investigations it reviewed. The office has only one designated staffer to review more than 100 investigations a year, out of hundreds of investigations by the sheriff’s office. This has meant “a lot of triaging to manage the workload,” Abouzeid said. For now, his office focuses its energy on investigations into alleged biased policing or excessive force.

One of the two new staffers will join OLEO’s investigation review team. The second will be on the office’s policy analysis team, part of Abouzeid’s push to expand his office’s role as a quasi-think tank on police oversight policy for Washington state. “We would like to see statewide policy to codify the roles of civilian oversight bodies, because otherwise oversight becomes a hodgepodge of what police unions negotiate into their contracts,” he said.

King County is preparing to negotiate a new contract with the King County Police Officers’ Guild after the current contract expires at the end of the month, which could be a chance for the county to restore OLEO’s authority to investigate misconduct and serious uses of force. In October, the county council asked OLEO to submit suggestions for improvements to the next contract. “Our plan is to be able to do the job that voters wanted us to do,” Abouzeid said. “That takes a new contract, and it also means that we’ll need to keep adding staff in the near future.”

The council also approved some expansions of the sheriff’s budget, including more than $1 million for emphasis patrols around the county courthouse and $4 million to offer hiring and retention incentives to sheriff’s officers.

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2. City council members Debora Juarez, who represents North Seattle, and Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle, are reportedly both lobbying colleagues to serve as City Council President next year. Lorena González, the current council president, gave up her council seat to run for mayor, leaving the position open. The council selects its own president every two years, or when the seat becomes vacant because a council member leaves.

The city council president is in charge of committee assignments, presides over regular council meetings, and is nominally in charge of the entire legislative department. The job typically goes to a senior council member, but not every council member gets to be president; embattled Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who has served on the council longer than any other current member, has never held the role.

Over the years, council presidents have interpreted the job, which is not clearly defined in the city charter, in different ways; while some have used the position to delegate work to other council members based on their colleagues’ interests and expertise, others have used it to raise the profile of the council as a whole, serving as a diplomat to or adversary with the mayor’s office, depending on the issue (and the mayor). Council presidents have also tried, with varying degrees of success, to present the council as a united group with shared interests—a quasi-fiction that has been harder to maintain as the council has become more fractured.

Neither Juarez nor Herbold responded to requests for comment. However, earlier this week, more than a dozen Native American leaders issued statements supporting Juarez for council president—an unusual instance of lobbying for an internal council position

One of the letters, signed by the leaders of Chief Seattle Club, the Seattle Indian Health Board, United Indians of All Tribes, and other Seattle-based Native groups, praised Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, for her work securing funds to address urban Native homelessness, establishing the city’s first Indigenous Advisory Council, and working on behalf of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

3. A facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County has left dozens of sick inmates in solitary confinement cells to quarantine. Although the state Department of Corrections announced in October that it would no longer use solitary confinement as a form of punishment, the department has repurposed the cells as quarantine facilities since the start of the pandemic. Continue reading “County Police Oversight Office Expands, Campaign for Council President Begins, State Still Using Solitary Confinement Cells for COVID Quarantine”

Public Safety Fizz: Council Takes Up SPD Budget, Captain Demoted Over Protest Role Sues, and More

1. The Seattle City Council’s budget committee heard presentations on Thursday about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2022 public safety budget, which would increase the Seattle Police Department budget by $2.8 million and add 125 new officers, for a net gain, after projected attrition, of 35 officers compared to current staffing levels.

The meeting helped clarify the mayor’s decision to move the nascent “Triage Team” unit (previously, and briefly, known as Triage One) to the Seattle Fire Department instead of the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC). According to CSCC Director Chris Lombard, his fledgling department is underprepared to take on the new crisis units. “It would take us at least six months to get the teams off the ground,” he said, “and I recognize that there’s an urgent need to get this program running sooner than that.” 

In her presentation, SPD budget director Angela Socci said most of SPD’s proposed budget increase would pay for paid family leave and a standard annual wage increase. The rest of SPD’s spending plans come from re-shuffling the department’s existing budget. Even with 125 new hires and slower attrition, Socci predicted that the department may have as much as $19 million in unspent salaries next year to repurpose.

After a brief report on a plan to add staff to the City Attorney’s Office to expand a pre-filing diversion program for young adults, Councilmember Andrew Lewis floated the possibility that the council could make the program a “permanent fixture” of the office instead of “an elective program”—alluding to the impending change in leadership at the City Attorney’s Office, which could place the future of the office’s pre-filing diversion program in question.

2. Three people in custody at the King County Detention Center in downtown Seattle lost consciousness on Wednesday after ingesting a still-unidentified substance. The King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) would not confirm on Thursday whether the three people had suffered overdoses, but department spokesman Noah Haglund noted that jail staff and medics were able to resuscitate all three before transporting them to Harborview Medical Center along with two other people who had ingested the same substance. All five people were housed in the same section of the jail; after the incident, guards emptied the nearby cells and moved inmates to a different unit.

3. On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) will no longer use disciplinary segregation—solitary confinement as a form of punishment—in any of the agency’s jails across the state.

The DOC made the change after reviewing data collected in Washington prisons between 2019 and 2020 that showed that more than half of the 2,500 people subjected to disciplinary segregation were punished for non-violent infractions. Additionally, the data showed that most people held in disciplinary segregation had already waited in administrative segregation—another type of solitary confinement, ostensibly for the safety of the incarcerated person—while awaiting a disciplinary hearing. The average stay in disciplinary segregation during the one-year study period ranged from 11 days for non-violent infractions to 16 days for violent ones.

According to a news release issued on Thursday afternoon, the DOC officially ended its use of disciplinary segregation on September 16.

4. A Seattle Police Department commander demoted in May filed a lawsuit against the city on Wednesday alleging that Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz unfairly blamed him for the department’s handling of a protest on Capitol Hill on June 1, 2020. Continue reading “Public Safety Fizz: Council Takes Up SPD Budget, Captain Demoted Over Protest Role Sues, and More”

New Report Finds Serious Shortfalls in Mental Health Care for Washington Prisoners

A cell (left) and recreation area (right) in the Intensive Management Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County (Photo: Office of the Corrections Ombuds)

By Paul Kiefer

A new report from Washington’s Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) raises concerns with the consequences of a shortage of mental health staff and treatment options in the state’s prison system, including the increased risk of suicide, self-harm, or placement in solitary confinement for inmates with unmet mental health needs.

The report, which the OCO released on Wednesday, is based on a review of roughly 335 complaints about alleged shortcomings in the state Department of Corrections’ (DOC) handling of mental health care, as well as interviews with incarcerated people and DOC staff and administrators.

In its review of mental health care options at state prisons, the OCO found that many problems hinged on the dearth of treatment providers available to the roughly 15,000 people in DOC custody. Facing overwhelming demand for mental health treatment and screenings, the DOC’s current providers handle overwhelming daily caseloads, sometimes without a designated work space to offer privacy to their patients. For people in custody, the shortage of treatment providers translates into long wait times for therapy appointments. Residents of the state’s 12 work release facilities, as well as inmates in some smaller prisons, have even fewer options for mental health care—in fact, the DOC doesn’t offer mental health treatment to work-release inmates at all.

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But the report also outlined other problems in the DOC’s response to the mental health needs of incarcerated people, including multiple instances in which prison staff did not properly document inmates’ risk of self-harm or suicide. The OCO has highlighted the same problems in earlier reports, including an April 2021 review of two deaths by suicide in DOC facilities last year that connected mishandled mental health screenings as a to both deaths.

The OCO’s review also raised concerns that prison staff rarely consider inmates’ mental health when punishing them for breaking rules. The investigators were particularly concerned about the use of so-called Intensive Management Units—solitary confinement—as a punishment for inmates with diagnosed mental health conditions, pointing out that placing those people in isolation can lead to “destructive or self-harming behaviors, often resulting in infractions and sanctions, causing time in solitary confinement to be repeatedly extended or increasingly harsh.” Continue reading “New Report Finds Serious Shortfalls in Mental Health Care for Washington Prisoners”