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Council to review agreement with Department of Justice on improvements at the King County Jail


Council to consider approval next Monday of agreement calling for continued improvements in inmate care and health services


King County’s proposed agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice providing for improvements to inmate care at the King County Jail will come before the Metropolitan King County Council for review next Monday, January 12.

“The King County Jail holds misdemeanants and felons with a wide range of needs,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, chair of the Council’s Law, Justice and Human Services Committee. “The jail also is the second-largest facility housing the mentally ill in the state. With an average daily population of about 2,300, the jail is like a small city. The negotiations with the Department of Justice will provide opportunities to continue to improve and implement more current standards in some areas. With timelines based on outcomes, the jail will be able to show it already has attained many successes. This was a cooperative agreement worked out between the County and the federal government, and both sides worked together well.”

Councilmembers will be briefed on the proposed memorandum of agreement at their Committee of the Whole meeting next Monday, with action to approve the agreement possible at the afternoon Council meeting. The Council will also consider a request for a supplemental appropriation for the costs of implementing the elements of the agreement: approximately $2 million in 2009 with subsequent annual costs of about $1.7 million, funds already held in reserve by the County in anticipation of this agreement.

The proposed agreement is the result of a year-long negotiation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and would settle issues raised by DOJ in a November 2007 letter to the County. Both the Council’s Law, Justice and Human Services and Operating Budget Committees received regular briefings over the past year on the progress of those negotiations as well as updates on the implementation of new procedures to address the DOJ’s concerns, among them:

• Creation of a “Use of Force Board” within the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention to review when force has been used to restrain inmates and to recommend changes to policy or additional training in response to findings;

• Provision of additional training for corrections officers in appropriate uses of force, including 16 hours of training for those who had not received training in over three years;

• Increased attention to environmental cleanliness by replacing 3500 mattresses and increasing the jail’s focus on cleaning inmate housing units to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Under the agreement, King County will continue to work with DOJ to achieve additional improvements in the operation of the jail. Specific improvements include:

• Revising policies on the use of force and internal investigations, updating training for corrections officers, and training jail employees that supervise inmates a minimum of four hours on use of force and defensive tactics.

• Implementing adequate suicide prevention policies, procedures and practices; daily assessment on the need for suicide precautions for inmates under suicide watch.

• Providing timely and medically appropriate care for inmates with serious medical needs; implementing infection control measures to prevent the spread of disease within the jail.

• Providing inmates with a daily change of underwear, and two uniforms, two towels and two sets of sheets per week; developing and implementing policies, procedures and practices for laundry and exchange of linens to prevent infection and illness.

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