by Joshua Phillips and Meredith Ruff
Governments across the nation are relaxing pandemic restrictions in the face of currently increasing cases and another new variant. Despite these relaxations, there is one place where the State admits that the pandemic is far from over: Washington’s prisons. At this point in the pandemic over 13,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID while inside, which is likely an undercount of actual cases (The average prison population in Washington on a given day is currently between 12,000 and 14,000). This is compared to 20% positive rate overall. There is currently a large outbreak at Stafford Creek Corrections Center; the whole prison is basically locked down.
Continue reading OPINION: Prisoners Are Humans and Deserve Access to COVID Care
by Anita Khandelwal and Mark Stroh
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office has embarked on a strategy that will harm our community’s most vulnerable members and lead to the incarceration of individuals too mentally ill to stand trial. The city attorney should abandon this counterproductive effort and allow service providers to work with these individuals without criminal legal system interference.
Continue reading OPINION: End Harmful and Ineffectual Prosecutions in Seattle Municipal Court
by M. Anthony Davis
When Alphonso Bell and Charles Champion founded Filthy Rags Outreach, a nonprofit dedicated to gang intervention and prevention, their initial goal was to engage fellow inmates in a religious journey towards spiritual growth. The two met at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen where they are both currently incarcerated.
“I really never seen men that came from a gang background making progress towards spirituality and finding themselves,” Bell says. Bell transferred to Stafford Creek Corrections Center, where he and Champion founded Filthy Rags Outreach, from Walla Walla State Penitentiary. He wanted to help inmates get into an atmosphere of spiritual growth and self-discovery.
Continue reading ‘Church on the Yard’ – Filthy Rags Shepherds Prisoners on the Journey From the Inside to the Outside
by Anita Khandelwal
The only humanitarian response to the COVID-19 crisis in the county jail is to reduce the number of people incarcerated there.
On Jan. 6, a person who had already been jailed for more than two weeks on suspicion of possessing a stolen vehicle waited in a King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) cell for an arraignment hearing in Superior Court. Shortly before the scheduled hearing, the court cancelled his hearing. Why? Because he had been jailed in a unit that also had a person who tested positive for COVID-19 and was being held in quarantine.
Had his hearing occurred, he would have been told what crime he was alleged to have committed and been able to seek his release. Instead, he languished in jail for another four days before he had his hearing, where the court agreed to release him to house arrest. But jail policy and COVID-19 again blocked his exit: The jail would not arrange for house arrest because he might have been exposed to COVID-19, so he waited another nine days before being released.
Continue reading OPINION: King County Must Reduce Jail Population Immediately
by Luna Reyna
As the delta variant spreads across the country, transfers to Northwest ICE Processing Center are spreading the virus to some of our state’s most vulnerable.
In 2018 the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) began collecting data on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flights with the assistance of Yakima Immigrant Response Network. These flights, also called ICE Air, were once carried out by the U.S. Marshals. Today, they are carried out by private businesses through private deportation contracts for ICE that are worth millions. According to Phil Neff, project coordinator for the UWCHR, the data revealed that nearly 600 people transferred to Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in June 2021 — the most transfers from ICE Air to the facility since June 2014. With these transfers came the transmission of COVID-19, resulting in the worst outbreak of the virus the facility has ever seen.
According to the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health, an outbreak is considered two cases within 14 days of each other. NWIPC reported 32 cases in under 14 days. According to ICE reports, each new case was a transfer from the southern border. “My understanding is that most of them are asylum seekers …” Neff explained. “Under human rights terms, asylum seekers shouldn’t be indefinitely detained.” This number has only increased since June. At least 150 people, including nine guards and one medical personnel, have tested positive.
Continue reading COVID-19 Outbreak at ICE Detention Center Continues
by Emma Hogan and Hannah Bolotin
One man currently looking at over a year in solitary confinement as he waits to start mandatory anger management programming writes: “Currently, they aren’t doing anything because no one knows this is going on and those who do don’t care.”
Over 200 individuals currently in solitary confinement in Washington State are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment due to the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) severe mishandling of COVID-19 adjustments. Incarcerated individuals who receive violent infractions have historically been sent to solitary confinement for a year or less as they complete a required behavioral change class — though the DOC was already moving away from using solitary confinement in recent years as evidence builds that this practice increases future behavioral issues, induces trauma, and catalyzes existing or new mental health issues. However, during the pandemic, this issue has taken on a new level of what is widely considered torture: The DOC has responded to COVID-19 restrictions by keeping the same course completion requirements but cutting class sizes in half, resulting in waitlists for required courses over a year long. And as a result, the majority of these individuals are forced to spend extended periods of time in solitary confinement.
This blatant malpractice was detailed by one of the many individuals experiencing it — a man who is trapped in solitary and is expected to remain on the waitlist for at least 13 more months — in a letter to his mother that she has since circulated in an effort to spread his message.
Continue reading OPINION: Washington’s DOC Is Trapping Incarcerated Men in Solitary Confinement
by Paul Faruq Kiefer
(This article was previously published by PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
On the morning of Wednesday, June 30, Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) staff covered part of a window at the entrance of the Twin Rivers Unit (TRU) at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County in an attempt to lower the heat inside on a day when outside temperatures peaked at 82 degrees.
But people incarcerated in the TRU say they spent the worst of the past week’s heat wave — including a high of 111 degrees in Monroe on Monday, June 28 — in sweltering cells with no air-conditioning and few chances to cool down, while prison staff had access to air-conditioned offices when temperatures rose into the triple digits.
The newly covered window, they said, was too little, too late. But few of those living in the unit are confident that prison administrators are planning ahead for another heat wave. “These are only going to get more common,” said David, a prisoner in the TRU who spoke with PubliCola on Wednesday. “And it’s pretty clear that [the DOC] won’t be prepared for the next one.” (PubliCola is using David’s first name only to reduce the risk of retaliation.)
Continue reading Sweltering Temperatures and Minimal Preparation Left State Prisoners Struggling to Cope
by Paul Kiefer
(This article was previously published at PubliCola and has been reprinted with permission.)
On the afternoon of Friday, June 18, 63-year-old Raymond Ben became the fifth person from King County to be resentenced under a new state law intended to correct decades of harsh mandatory sentences by retroactively removing second-degree robbery from the list of offenses targeted by the state’s “three-strikes” statute, which imposes a life sentence without parole for so-called “persistent offenders.”
The law requires prosecutors to request resentencing hearings by July 25 for anyone currently serving a life sentence for a “three-strikes” case involving a second-degree robbery — which, unlike other three-strikes offenses like rape and manslaughter, typically doesn’t involve a weapon or injury to another person. The law made at least 114 people across Washington eligible for resentencing, including 29 people from King County — many of whom, like Ben, have spent a decade or more in prison.
Continue reading Resentencing Continues Under Law Correcting Harsh ‘Three-Strikes’ Convictions
by Hannah Bolotin
On Jan. 14, 2021, the Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) published a report summarizing numerous cases of delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment by the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC), highlighting the ways in which DOC’s negligence has led to several preventable prisoner deaths.
In yet another example of DOC’s negligence, the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCC-W) has been rebuffing a prisoner’s requests for treatment for rapid development of potentially cancerous tumors for years. Several years ago, Patricia Teafatiller noticed a mass on her neck. A year and a half ago, a second lump developed along her spine. Patricia sought medical care and was told it was just a knot in her neck. She was subsequently informed she had degenerative disk disease to explain away the mass on her spine, saying nothing of her symptoms and masses in other locations. The lumps have continued to grow, more masses have appeared, and none have diminished. Her neck has grown increasingly stiff; she describes it as feeling like it is in a vice, with a grinding, popping sensation whenever she moves her chin towards her chest. The results of the ultrasound that was eventually ordered were inconclusive, warranting an MRI and/or biopsy to confirm whether the masses are benign or malignant — the standard of care in any medical practice.
Continue reading OPINION: DOC’s Medical Negligence and Dehumanization of Prisoners Must End