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
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 Carolyn Bick
Despite the close settings in which the state’s incarcerated population live, and the waves of outbreaks washing through the incarceration system, Washington State’s Department of Health (DOH) has decided that Washington’s incarcerated population will not receive the vaccine until Phase 1B-4, according to a vaccination plan the DOH announced at a DOH press conference on Jan. 6.
Continue reading Incarcerated People Won’t Receive Vaccine Until at Least April — But That May Not Be Set in Stone