Op-Ed: Open Letter to King County Council

by the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network (Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group, Creative Justice, No New Youth Jail, Pacific Rim Solidarity Network)


We are a coalition of community members, non-profit organizations, criminal legal systems reform advocates, and abolitionists. We are writing to express our grave concerns regarding the continued confinement of the 2000 adults and 40 youth community members in the King County Jail (KJC), the Kent Regional Justice Center (RJC) and the King County Juvenile Detention.

Current Situation

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. King County is ground zero of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States, with more confirmed cases and deaths than any other jurisdiction. Recent events related to Covid-19 in the jails have been outrageous. As of now, the emergency measures taken by the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention are lacking and insufficient.

  • The public was notified on March 17, 2020 that a King County Corrections Officer who had been asymptomatic was later found positive for COVID 19.
  • The health screening criteria for jail admissions is limited to an individual’s temperature. Given that this virus has up to a two week asymptomatic incubation period, an individual’s temperature does not rule someone out for being a carrier. King County’s emergency measures do not include actual measures at ensuring social distancing and access to frequent handwashing or hand sanitizers. These are basic measures advised by public health authorities.
  • We recently learned of the death of a 60 year old individual at RJC. We urge the DAJD to release the cause of death immediately. A death at the facility in this time causes immense uncertainty, anxiety and fear among our incarcerated communities and loved ones out here.
  • We were made aware that individuals previously incarcerated at KCJ who are deemed most vulnerable and/or over the age of 60 with comorbidities and immunocompromised health, had been transferred to a housing unit at RJC. This appears to have been a public health intervention. With a recent death allegedly in the same unit, this transfer seems worrisome. We would like for DAJD to provide the criteria and public health rationales for such a transfer.
  • Visitation has been cancelled for youth in detention. Connection with family and community is crucial for the mental and emotional well being of incarcerated youth. Detention itself is already a form of trauma that youth have to endure, that is further aggravated by isolation from loved ones and family in this moment.
  • The lack of transparency from county and jail officials regarding the conditions of incarcerated individuals, and measures taken to reduce transmission, are devastating and fear-inducing for our communities.

Governor Inslee has declared a state of emergency and prohibited all gatherings of over 50 people in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Does this prohibition not apply to those who are incarcerated in King County as well? The jail cannot be managed in a way that enables the kind of social distancing that this public health crisis requires.

Precedents

Other jails in the US have already taken steps. In New York, the Board of Corrections called for all New York City jails to release those who are at high risk from coronavirus and to limit new bookings. In San Diego county, the sheriff’s office is already in the process of releasing individuals from jail to open up quarantine bed spaces and prevent the spread of disease. Similarly in Los Angeles County, authorities have reduced jail population by 600 within two weeks. In Iran, 85,000 incarcerated individuals were released in an emergency to stop the spread of the virus.

King County, as the center of the epidemic, must take immediate action to minimize the spread of disease and respect the human lives in confinement. The crisis is only escalating.

  1. On March 18th, the Washington State Supreme Court passed an order related to statewide emergency measures in Washington state courts that effectively suspends all court operations with the exception of release hearings. We call on your administration to ensure that King County Superior Court and King County Juvenile Court adhere to the Supreme Court ruling.
  2. Release all people incarcerated in King County. We demand full release so as to eliminate the possibility of unintended collateral consequences during this unprecedented pandemic. The precedents taken in New York and San Diego county, where individuals charged with non-violent offenses are being released, is the minimum we expect from your administration.
  3. Immediately release all who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. While we expect all people to be released, people with the following vulnerabilities must be prioritized: respiratory disease; 60+ years old; pregnancy; immunosuppression or compromised immune systems.
  4. Immediately release youth in the King County Juvenile Detention. Isolation and de-facto solitary when quarantined, and a lack of access to family members can cause insurmountable hardship for youth in this moment of uncertainty and crisis. Youth should be with familiar caregivers and community that can support them in their mental, emotional and physical well being, especially in this moment.
  5. No new bookings into the King County Jail or Kent Regional Justice Center.
  6. Make plans to provide post-release housing to those who are released but are housing unstable. King County was able to find and purchase motels at a moment’s notice for quarantine. This shows us that when the need is great enough King County has the power to provide emergency housing for those in need.
  7. A daily update about confirmed and pending COVID 19 cases in facilities.
  8. Release a “State of King County Jails and Courts” summary, that includes information about how social distancing and good hygiene practices and recommendations of moratorium on 50 people gathering or more are being observed. Update these memos weekly showing County progress (or lack thereof) to protect people who are incarcerated.
  9. Free access to testing without any medical copay for incarcerated individuals.
  10. Significantly strengthen the King County Juvenile Detention Intake Criteria to restrict and limit any new bookings into the juvenile detention center.

Act now. We need compassionate systems, level public health interventions in our courts and jails now. The only real public health response that exists that protects all of our community members who are incarcerated and court-involved is freeing all people from our jails and stopping unnecessary court operations as specified above.

You have an opportunity right now to redefine public safety and prevent our residents from dying.

Due to the urgency of the issue at hand, we expect a prompt response from you by Friday March 20th 12pm.

Sincerely,

COVID-19 Mutual Aid

Organizational Endorsements (36)

Creative Justice

La Resistencia

Seattle ACED

QLaw Foundation of Washington

Black and Pink Seattle/Tacoma

public annex

Justice for All

Our family

KhAAG

Post-Prison Education Program

WA Coalition for Prison Reform

Books to Prisoners Seattle

Black Rose/Rosa Negra Seattle

AHCC

Jewish Voice for Peace Seattle

Columbia Legal Services

Seattle Mennonite Church

Williamson Enterprises

Black and Pink PDX

Mason County Climate Justice

Indivisible Plus: Washington

TeamChild

Critical Bounds

Dharma Friendship Foundation

Indivisible Kirkland

SEIU 775

One America

CID Coalition / #HumbowsNotHotels

National Lawyers Guild, Seattle Chapter

Jews Undoing Institutional Racism

Non-Complicit Student Association at the University of Washington School of Law

Seattle South Asians for Black Lives

Transit Riders Union

Gender Justice Beyond Bars and Binaries

Legal Voice

Post-Prison Education Program

Individuals 

Carrie Freshour

Megan Ybarra

Dan Berger

Becca Meredith

Nikkita Oliver

Dean Spade

Meera Sethi

La Tisha Conto

Cole Willsea

Geoffrey D’Alosio

Jamil Suleman

Tyler Wilch

Laurie Dawson

Shelby Handler

Chelsea Myers

Ross Girshick

Brie Gyncild

Meghan Thompson

Lacie Braun

Aaron Shay

Eric Padget

Becca

Jay Billings

Jeffrey Freiberg

Loren Taylor

James Page

Rachel Shapiro

Karla

Elena Lyn Orlando

Elise Cooksley

Katie Freeman

Todd Bohannon

Greg Thiessen

Cammie Carl

Natasha I Terry

kai aprill-tomlin

Anna Ivanov

Annie

Laura

Gordon Werner

Emily Yoshioka

Bruno George

Ashley Barnes-Cocke

Yaya

Megan Munk

Kelsen Caldwell

Casey Motson

Rosalie May

Tiffani Escalante

Lynnda Escalante

Katie Pekarske

Jason Beutler

Matty Whyte

Ellen

Jennifer Gosar

Jennifer Gosar

Sophia esparza

Lea Kronenberg

Anna Hackman

Shelli

Django Paris

Julie Feng

Adrienne Domingus

Natalie Chapman

Brett Miller

Victoria Lewis

Autumn Vanderkloot

Sriram Parasurama

Mara Dauber

Tashina Shepherd

Bonnie

Robyn Greenfield

Eleanor Ryan

Suzanne Cook

Margaret Wilson-Briggs

WD

Susan Wade

Brit

Erika

Kathleen Starr

Elaine Mehary

Noah

Rachel McBain

Kaylen Hendrick

Kathy Frasier

Sina Sam

Jessica Mitchell

Noreen Light

Anita Barker

Liz Spoerri

Julie triggs

Candice

Carly Greyell

Elise McKinnon

Kristina Nielander

Charlie Shih

Kimberli Burrow Elam

Matthew Van Duyn

Jenny McIntosh

Hannah Wilson

Sue Kay

Evalynn Romano

Leah Wood

Alison Cheung

Whitney Wood

Grace Ott

Deborah Massachi

Elisa Cozad

Chen-Chen Jiang

Leah VanHoeve

Natalie Snitzer

Florence Sum

Marco Henry

Tamara Lea Spira

Michael Foster

Felipe Perez III

Otelia Lundberg

Heather Carawan

Emily Pacunski

Charlie Kundts

Meagan Bernatchez

Jessica Rock

Linh Nguyen

Riley Moos

Alan-Michael Weatherford

Jonathan Pincus

Autumn James

Talonya Adams

Christoph Adams

Mary Mitchell

Dennis Young

Rachel Page

Thomas Sargent Moore

Maureen Janega

Annette Klapstein

Alexa Fay

Alora McGavin

Sela Mafi

Juawana Grant

Simon

Juliet Le

TASHA WALSTON

Amanda miller

Kelsey Souza

Phoebe Faulkner

Chanda Mak

Chessie Snider

Francis Jason

Jackson Pietsch

Bana Be

Erin Wolf

Sewheat Asfaha

Lynn Ausley

Joanne Glant

Bruce Glant

Jeanne Berry

Tonya Tolliver

Sophia Posnock

Paula Bond

Shania Card

NANCY L COLLINS

  1. Williams

TJ Main

Sam

Seattle People’s Party

Washington Building Leaders of Change

Rell Be Free

Sweller weller

quinn rao

Sarah Staley

Karen Taylor

Mollie Wolf

Scout Smedley

Steve Leigh

Sarah Egger

Jeff Campbell

Sam Lee

Beck

Fiona Sheehan

Sarah

Sara Yinling Post

Jack Finley

Mac Peyton

Kathryn Sanlis

Susan Wade

Rebecca Petersen

David Ellenwood

Brittney Bush Bollay

Mai Takahashi

Fletcher Christie

Toetie

Ross Kirshenbaum

Lesley Hoare

Sarah Bishop

April Zhang

Ashleen O’Brien

Kristina Nielander

Heather Dockery

Darius Fullmer

Guy Oron

Maya Ramakrishnan

Laura De Vos

Denise Grollmus

Gus Voss

linh nguyen

Sierra Kaplan-Nelson

Jane Singer

Susan Sheinfeld

Shannon Carman

Rebecca Allen

Bruno George

Aditi Rajendran

Jieyi Arthur Ludden

Nicole Bearden

Naomi Finkelstein

Katherine Schaff, DrPH

Sharon Tsoi

Claire Clayton

Anna Jacobsen

Eamon Redding

Keren Ram

Agnes P. Cwalina

Will Toaspern

Allison Goldberg

Jordan Van Voast

Eliana Horn

Linda Vong

Ruby Harlin

Rae Paris

Stevie Houpt

Mary RobertS

carrie matthews

Ed Mast

Tianna Andresen

Madeleine Sosin

Jasmine Fernandez

Nick San

Miya Woo

Jeremy Milloy

Maria Porter Steward

Michael H McIntosh

Willa Osborn

Diana Xin

Jared Austen Maddox

Amanda Brown

Chelsea Moore

Tushar

John Stovall

Carl W Elliott

Cassandra Yabes

Kovas Zygas

Miranda Mellis

Marc Mazique

Omid Bagheri Garakani

Sarah Cornett

Letauaeletise Hunkin

Caleb Knapp

Soya Jung

Nina Wallace

Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer

Camille Walsh

Linda Phan

Meredith Ruff

SOPHIA POSNOCK

Aleksandrea Johnson

Alena Huynh

Justin totaan

Elicia Shotland

Leo Farbman

Rachel Anderson

Anna Fernandez

carol williams

Michelle Kriebel

Zainab Jabboua

Eden Amital

Maana Mesbahi

Tess Matsukawa

Maren Nielsen-Thompson

Peggy Korpela

Kelly Johnson

Laura Stembridge

Emily Silva

Arianna Nord

Gillian Harkins

Carly Greyell

Gregory Lewis

Noah Collier

Devon de Leña

Naomi Smith

Aidan Moore

Emily Rose Childs

Derek Boiko-Weyrauch

Emmett Moore

Summer Diegel

Nicole C Zeller

Rose Ernst

Aaron Hartwell

Kim Wool

Darcy Peth

Karyn Poblocki

Aaron Shay

Talya Gillman

Kirstin Wagner

Sayer Rippey

Amber Khan

gretchen siegrist

Charles Collins

Oloth Insyxiengmay

Shirley gumabon

Vanessa Moreno

Jay Thompson

Nancy

Alia Taqieddin

Koko Takahashi

Mike Phimpiela

Alexandria Jones

Norma Timbang

Courtney Morales Thrall

Nicollette Roe

Carmen Felicia Forsman

Alex Eisenberg

Sharrin Manor

Tara Fisher

Joanne Murayama

Andrew Hedden

Cameron Withey

Emijah Smith

Chris Eisenberg

Anthea Hubanks

Rita Montour

Gretchen Sleicher

Matthew Hernandez

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Lorena Mendoza-Flores

Karla Davis

Phebe Jewell

Luke Patterson

Tera Oglesby

Adrian Tunney

Pranava Raparla

Michael Paradis

Lourdez Velasco

Mel Landquist

William McKeithen

Susan Helf

Denise Hotchkiss

vy nguyen

Chris Eisenberg

Lucien spect

Benji Astrachan

Madeleine Vidger

Jennifer Ting

Helena Ribeiro

Laura Elaine Daza

Iris Carrera

Shanine Lofton

Hannah Myrick

Jessica Frank

Sarah K Burkhalter

Lorinda Rowledge

Camille

Rosanna Sze

Sara Brickman

Paige Lester

Evelyn Morris

Kayleen Oka

Alex Eisenberg

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