Executive Constantine has appointed Megan Pedersen, current Director of the Office of Labor Relations, to serve as a temporary Special Deputy to the Executive, stepping into the role immediately to provide additional support in implementing critical actions and improvements related to staffing, operations, and health and safety in King County correctional facilities.
StoryKing County Executive Dow Constantine announced today the appointment of Megan Pedersen to serve as a temporary Special Deputy to the Executive to support King County correctional facilities. The appointment is in response to the ongoing impacts COVID-19 has had on both those in custody and the staff in these facilities, as well as recent tragic suicide incidents. Pedersen will provide additional support to leadership as many operational, staffing, and well-being improvements continue to be implemented that impact multiple departments. Pedersen, who currently serves as the Director of the Office of Labor Relations, will step into this role effective immediately.
For nearly the past two and a half years, King County correctional facilities have faced an unprecedented strain on staffing levels and program operations due to the pandemic. During this time, the county has been committed to improving the living conditions of people in custody and increasing support for the workforce in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) and Jail Health Services (JHS) which is a division of Public Health – Seattle & King County.
"The impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on those in our custody, as well as our dedicated staff, continues to put an unprecedented strain on our jail operations. We have been moving forward on multiple fronts to improve the living conditions for people in custody and increase support for our workforce," said Executive Constantine. "Bringing Megan Pedersen into this temporary role - with her extensive background in labor relations - is exactly what we need right now to best support the great work our DAJD and JHS leadership and staff are doing to address these critical issues."
'I am honored to be appointed to this new role as Special Deputy to the Executive," said Megan Pedersen. “I look forward to the opportunity to work closely with the leadership of Adult and Juvenile Detention, Jail Health Services, the Department of Public Defense, and our labor partners, to bring a one-team approach to the vital work of promoting the well-being of those in custody and our staff.”
King County has long been committed to transforming the criminal legal system by implementing new models that start upstream to reduce incarcerations by connecting people with community-based accountability alternatives, needs-based interventions, and diversion programs.
While many concrete steps have been taken to implement these longer-term solutions, King County is focused on immediately solving the staff shortages and more labor-intensive operational changes in correctional facilities. Pedersen’s new role will be to support departmental leadership while providing a single point of accountability to the Executive’s senior leadership team.
“I am excited about Megan Pedersen's appointment to this important Special Deputy assignment,” said DAJD Director Allen Nance. “It further highlights the high priority the Executive and I have on jail operations within King County, and the urgency to advance jail reform as part of our overarching commitment to criminal legal system transformation.”
Average Daily Population Status
The adult jails’ daily population averaged 1,575 this past July. While current levels are still about 400 fewer people than the pre-COVID average, it is at least 240 more than during the first two years of the pandemic.
DAJD recently launched a public-facing dashboard that shows the average daily population numbers. Additionally, data for bookings, releases, and the demographics of the daily jail population are regularly updated with real-time data.
Booking restrictions for non-violent misdemeanors remain in place to keep the average daily population at the jails several hundred people lower compared to pre-pandemic levels. King County has worked on multiple fronts to improve efficiency, and to provide alternatives to secure detention when appropriate.
These include working with the courts and other partners to expand the ability to offer alternatives to jail through Electronic Home Detention (EHD). The EHD participant monitoring has expanded to 24/7, while the capacity has increased to accommodate up to 350 participants, compared to 75 participants pre-pandemic. As of today, there remain 50 spaces available for placement by judges.
Since late May, the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent has been open for weekday booking by appointment, rather than being open for walk-in booking during set hours. This operational change was made to better utilize limited staff because pre-pandemic the facility had fewer than 10 bookings per day from all south King County agencies combined.
Like corrections and other law enforcement agencies across the country, King County correctional facilities have faced critical staffing shortages. Currently, DAJD has more than 100 corrections officer vacancies out of 505 budgeted positions. The vacancies have occurred since mid-2020 when the jails were approaching full staffing levels, following a concerted effort to address vacancies. Working in partnership with employees and their labor unions, DAJD worked diligently and creatively to address staffing challenges. This includes retention bonuses of $4,000 for corrections officers and sergeants.
By expanding new recruitment efforts through local radio stations, digital billboards, and other media – as well as providing bonuses to employees who refer successful candidates for corrections officer positions – DAJD has already hired 42 new corrections officers since January 2022.
Moving forward, the County and the Corrections Guild have reached an agreement on a new comprehensive labor contract, pending approval by the King County Council. The agreement includes several critical supports for current and future employees, including increased wages, temporary increases in the rate of compensation for voluntary overtime, and a review of alternative shifts options to determine whether they could reduce reliance on mandatory overtime while providing more desirable work schedules to support work-life balance and recruitment efforts. In addition, the County and Guild have an agreement to contract out or reassign some functions that could immediately transfer at least a dozen officers back into critical coverage assignments.
Similarly, JHS currently has about 60 unfilled health staff positions. The department has covered some of these vacancies temporarily by hiring 33 contracted staff currently supporting patient care. To fill the vacancies, the County is reviewing salaries of difficult-to-fill positions. Expanded recruitment efforts have included utilizing paid recruiting platforms designed for specific health services professionals and recruiting through community organizations when appropriate. JHS has already hired 26 new health staff positions since January 2022.
As a part of King County’s public health response to the pandemic, in March 2020, in-person visitation was closed, and group programming was limited to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak inside facilities and to protect the health and well-being of both those in custody and the staff.
While group programming remains suspended in consideration of the ongoing pandemic, DAJD and JHS have prioritized improving the opportunities for people in custody to maintain connections. This has included increased virtual visits, at no cost, and additional free phone calls, as well as the pending distribution of tablets for all inmates at King County’s detention facilities. The tablets will provide better access to educational resources, books, podcasts, religious and spiritual materials, legal research, and more.
Additionally, some volunteers and service providers have been able to conduct in-person window visits, while chaplains have been able to do so throughout the pandemic.
While these temporary challenges remain, King County is committed to working to ensure the health and safety of the people delivered into jail custody by police agencies or the courts, and of the dedicated workforce.
The impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on those in our custody, as well as our dedicated staff, continues to put an unprecedented strain on our jail operations. We have been moving forward on multiple fronts to improve the living conditions for people in custody and increase support for our workforce. Bringing Megan Pedersen into this temporary role - with her extensive background in labor relations - is exactly what we need right now to best support the great work our DAJD and JHS leadership and staff are doing to address these critical issues.
I am honored to be appointed to this new role as Special Deputy to the Executive. I look forward to the opportunity to work closely with the leadership of Adult and Juvenile Detention, Jail Health Services, the Department of Public Defense, and our labor partners, to bring a one-team approach to the vital work of promoting the well-being of those in custody and our staff.
I am excited with Megan Pedersen's appointment to this important Special Deputy assignment. It further highlights the high priority the Executive and I have on jail operations within King County, and the urgency to advance jail reform as part of our overarching commitment to criminal legal system transformation.
For more information, contact:
Kristin Elia, Executive Office, 206-477-8209