Jails and youth detention end some COVID-19 disruptions, continuing commitment to improving conditions
A series of urgent actions to improve the conditions of people in custody and staff is taking place at King County’s adult jails, youth detention facility, and community corrections programs. The Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is seeking to lessen disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, while also supporting frontline staff during a period of historically high vacancies.
Two months after Executive Constantine appointed a Special Deputy to provide additional support in implementing critical actions at King County’s correctional facilities, the County has made great progress in improving conditions for people in custody and staff.
Most immediately, actions include a set of in-person activities that are returning for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to better connect people in custody with support services and their loved ones. Other changes implemented thus far are designed to improve safety.
Newly approved labor agreements, meanwhile, seek to honor the vital work performed by corrections officers and juvenile detention officers under difficult conditions.
“Thanks to the urgent, concerted action of Jail leadership and employees, we have successfully advanced multiple critical improvements at our correctional facilities,” said Executive Constantine. “King County is committed to improving the living conditions of those in custody and increasing support for our workforce as we recover from the challenges of the pandemic.”Recent progress and upcoming actions
- Visitation – adult jails: The Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent reopened limited in-person visitation on weekday afternoons and evenings for all housing units effective October 24. The King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) in Seattle is on track to reopen limited in-person visitation in early November, with plans to have full visitation in the coming months. Initially, this will be available at the Seattle jail for those people who have less access to video visits than in other housing units.
- Visitation – youth detention: The Patricia H. Clark Children & Family Justice Center (CCFJC) has offered no-contact, in-person visitation with detained youth since 2020. More recently, the CCFJC resumed family visits without physical barriers on October 21 for parents and guardians who have completed the initial series of federally approved COVID-19 vaccinations. Parents and guardians who are unvaccinated may still visit youth in the no-contact room.
- Programming - adult jails: The jails began restoring in-person group programming earlier in October, starting with Bible studies, a high-school completion program, and veterans' programs, with plans to steadily increase in-person activities until they approach pre-pandemic levels. A recently awarded federal grant for more than $800,000 will further support education and employment programs at the jails.
- Programming – youth detention: The CCFJC offers in-person and virtual youth programming options seven days a week in partnership with community providers, volunteers, and contractors. These diverse programs include recreational, educational, therapeutic, religious, and interpersonal skill-building activities, which are designed to meet the unique needs of youth through evidence-based practices. Early in the pandemic, the CCFJC offered virtual programming, but in-person activities resumed in the spring of 2021.
- Suicide prevention – all secure detention facilities: In early October, all DAJD secure detention facilities discontinued issuing bedsheets to people in custody in favor of blankets, which evidence suggests helps reduce suicide risks. DAJD and JHS also have started conducting weekly reviews of any instances of self-harm and calls to 911/988 to identify people in jail who may have been in crisis but have not communicated to jail staff. Executive Constantine has proposed funding in the 2023-2024 budget for increased staff training on suicide prevention.
- Bunk retrofits – KCCF: As of mid-October, construction crews had completed over 300 bunk retrofits as part of an effort to make jail housing areas more suicide-resistant.
- Overdose prevention – all facilities: As an added tool against opioid overdoses, DAJD now stocks the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone/NARCAN throughout the jails and the youth detention portion of the CCFJC. Employees who interact with people in custody are trained in using this overdose-reversal drug.
- Alternatives to Secure Detention – Youth: As of October 1, the Juvenile Division’s Alternatives to Secure Detention (ASD) team has returned to their pre-pandemic scope of services. ASD team members now offer supportive services to youth and families in person, rather than being limited to virtually meeting with clients supervised by electronic home monitoring.
- Voting – adult jails: Through a partnership with King County Elections, the KCCF has scheduled a second in-person voting event for people in custody on October 29. The first event took place on October 22. Voter registration is available at the jails and efforts are ongoing to promote awareness about voting rights for people in custody.
DAJD operates two adult jails, a youth detention facility, and community corrections programs. Like other correctional agencies throughout the country, the department has faced unprecedented staffing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, DAJD continues to invest significantly in hiring and retention strategies, including new and improved advertising, signing bonuses, additional specialists dedicated to recruitment, recruitment incentives for current employees, and streamlining the hiring process.
As of mid-October, DAJD has hired 47 corrections officers and 13 juvenile detention officers in 2022. The department anticipates hiring an additional 10 corrections and juvenile detention officers by the end of the year. DAJD hired 48 corrections officers in total in 2020 and 13 in 2021.
Recently, King County and the unions representing jail staff – the King County Corrections Guild and King County Juvenile Detention Guild – ratified new agreements aimed at addressing recruiting and retention and incentivizing overtime. The new agreements span 2022-2024 and provide general wage increases of 4-6% each year, annual retention bonuses, and new premiums for volunteering to work overtime.
Additionally, DAJD is exploring contracts with other regional jails – including the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) in Des Moines – to house some of the adult in-custody population. This plan would allow the resumption of normal booking hours in South County cities while also maximizing staffing resources available for King County’s jails in Kent and Seattle to achieve the level of service the department and staff strive to provide for people in the County’s care.
Drinking water update
On September 29, DAJD identified concerns about the turbidity (cloudiness) of the water at a few locations inside the KCCF. The County’s Facilities Management Division arranged for water quality testing and DAJD began providing bottled water for drinking to the residents in the KCCF out of an abundance of caution.
To date, an independent consultant has completed three rounds of testing, with all samples at the point of source (sinks, drinking fountains, etc.) meeting the State’s drinking water standards. Both the Washington Department of Health Drinking Water Office and the Drinking Water Division of Seattle Public Utilities advised the County on appropriate actions, and a Seattle Public Utilities water quality expert visited KCCF and has not identified any operational concerns.
The facility will remain on bottled water for drinking until the cause is identified. People in custody are provided a bottle of water with every meal and may request additional bottles at any time.
- Executive Constantine appoints Megan Pedersen as temporary Special Deputy to support implementation of crucial improvements inside King County correctional facilities | August 2022
- Allen Nance confirmed to lead DAJD | September 2022
- Quickly, safely reducing the jail population so staff can ensure the health of everyone in correctional facilities | March 2020
Thanks to the urgent, concerted action of Jail leadership and employees, we have successfully advanced multiple critical improvements at our correctional facilities. King County is committed to improving the living conditions of those in custody and increasing support for our workforce as we recover from the challenges of the pandemic.
We remain energized and excited by our return to in-person visitation in our facilities and the restoration of programs and services to help improve the lives of people while in our jails, in anticipation of preparing them for reentry into the community upon their release. There is much work ahead, and we look forward to keeping you informed as we continue our important work to advance community safety.
In my first 60 days serving as Special Deputy to the Executive, I have focused on acting with urgency to improve the well-being of those in our care and our staff. Together with a slate of new DAJD leaders, we are prioritizing efforts where the needs are greatest, including restoring programming, speeding up the time to hire, incentivizing and rewarding employees, improving access to counsel by attorneys, and implementing innovative solutions to reduce the average daily population in secure detention. Although none of these complex efforts will result in overnight change, they represent some of the most focused and creative thinking I have seen from DAJD in the last 10 years. We derive our inspiration from the professionalism that DAJD staff demonstrate each day under the most challenging of conditions, as well as the desire to do right by the people in our facilities and their families.
For more information, contact:
Noah Haglund, Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, 206-263-1866