King County Executive Dow Constantine on Tuesday signed an Executive Order suspending the Work Release Program, one of several actions the county is taking to decrease the number of people who are in custody as quickly and safely as possible so the staff can ensure the health of everyone in correctional facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention has already decreased the number of adults incarcerated at its jails in Seattle and Kent (Maleng Regional Justice Center) by more than 300 over the past few weeks, from 1,940 on March 1 to 1,638 on March 24. The goal is to get the population at King County’s two adult correctional facilities to about 1,200 to provide single bunks for everyone in custody as recommended by Public Health – Seattle & King County. It also will provide Jail Health Services employees with more room to isolate people who are at a higher risk of severe complications.
“We are working with every partner in the criminal justice system – courts, public defenders, prosecutors, corrections, and law enforcement – to maintain public safety and ensure the health and safety of everyone in our correctional facilities, including our employees who work on the front lines,” Constantine said in a news release from his office. “Quickly and safely reducing the number of people who are in custody will provide our health care professionals the space they need to follow recommendations by Public Health. These emergency actions reflect our values to protect the lives and safety of every King County resident.”
The Work Release Program currently operates 79 beds on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse in Seattle. Most people in work release leave the facility each day to go to work or to treatment. If someone in the program is arrested, the court will still be able to order electronic home detention or, in some cases, secure detention at a correctional facility.
Under the direction of Constantine, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention is working with their partners in the criminal justice system – courts, the King County Department of Public Defense, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the state Department of Corrections, and law enforcement – to prioritize bed space for those who pose an imminent risk to public safety.
Here are some of the actions King County will take:
* Correctional facilities will restrict the type of bookings they will accept.
* Jails will not accept people brought in for misdemeanor charges, except for misdemeanor assaults, violations of no contact or protection orders, DUIs, sex crimes or other charges which present a serious public safety concern.
* Jails will continue to accept people booked for felony investigations for now. In the meantime, jail administrators have asked all law enforcement to prioritize bookings for those who pose an imminent risk to public safety.
* The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention will delay all misdemeanor “commitment sentences” until restrictions on public gatherings are lifted. These are court orders that require someone who is not in custody to report to a jail at a later date to serve their sentence. The people who will be impacted are already in the community.
* As of March 17, King County jails no longer accept people who are arrested for violating the terms of their state Department of Corrections community supervision and are returning people who are in county custody back to state custody.
Emergency precautions to ensure everyone’s health and safety
As of March 24, no one in custody has tested positive for COVID-19, though given that this is a pandemic, the staff is taking emergency precautions to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
Here are some of the emergency actions King County has taken so far:
* Cancelling public visitations and offering video visits at no costs to users.
* Transferring anyone in custody who is not symptomatic but is at a higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 – 60 or older with underlying health conditions – to a housing unit at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, which is more conducive to social distancing and infection protection.
* Screening all staff members and professional visitors – such as attorneys – when they arrive at correctional facilities.
* Increased cleaning at all correctional facilities.
* Enhanced screening in pre-booking areas with Jail Health Services employees conducting further evaluations if someone exhibits symptoms before booking begins.
* So far, one staff member has reported testing positive for COVID-19. A correctional officer at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle notified his shift commander on March 16, eight days after his last shift.