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King County Executive News

King County Executive News
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Feb. 24, 2012

Reforms at King County Jail lead to grade of "100 percent" from U.S. Department of Justice

"Timely, proactive and tireless efforts" noted by federal monitors in declaring successful completion of civil rights review begun in 2009

The King County Jail earned exemplary ratings in meeting all conditions set by the federal government for housing inmates in a safe and secure environment, according to a letter this week from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that successfully concludes a three-year review of jail operations.

"These findings from the Justice Department affirm the reforms we've made in two short years, while reminding us that effective reform must be ongoing and consistent over the long haul," said King County Executive Dow Constantine, in thanking the federal monitors for their review. "Our employees work daily in an inherently volatile environment, and daily vigilance is required."

Remarking on the "productive and cooperative relationship" with the County, the DOJ this week closed its monitoring of the jail begun in 2009 under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that set practice standards for jail and jail health operations.

"The DOJ letter and the final monitors' report confirm that King County has a jail facility that appropriately balances the safety of our citizens with the rights of inmates," said Claudia Balducci, director of the County's Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, who credited the hard work of jail employees at all levels, from both her department and Public Health.

"The Department of Justice said what we know to be true: the excellence of our jail and jail health staff has been the driving force behind our continual improvement in the jail, and I want to thank them for their outstanding efforts," said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County.

In a letter, the Chief of the Special Litigation Section in the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Jonathan M. Smith, said he was "pleased to report that the County has now fulfilled all outstanding obligations under the MOA," and that accordingly, "the Department of Justice now considers this matter closed."

Under the terms of the MOA, independent monitors selected jointly by the Department of Justice and King County visited the jail every four months. At each visit during three-year monitoring period, they noted the County made steady progress, culminating with a grade of 100 percent in meeting the standards set forth in the MOA in the areas of protection from harm, suicide prevention, medical care, environmental health, and quality improvement.

Among the reforms and improvements to services provided by the jail that King County made or more fully implemented during the three-year monitoring period were:

  • Updating the jail's use of force policies, and extensive internal review of use-of-force incidents and how they are reported,

  • Discontinued use of the "hair hold" as a routine use-of-force defensive tactic,

  • Annual training for officers in defensive tactics, and annual training for all jail and jail health staff in suicide prevention,

  • More frequent and standardized clinical assessments of inmates deemed currently or recently at risk for suicide,

  • Replacement of plumbing and fixtures with more suicide-resistant models,

  • Replacement of over 3500 mattresses to improve infection control,

  • Updates to jail health clinical guidelines, and

  • Implementation of the quality improvement program in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.

Federal monitors in their final report had specific praise for the jail improvements. Among the findings:

  • Performance in all of the categories under review was rated as "Exemplary."

  • The County's program for improving clinical performance was said to be the best that particular monitor had ever observed.

  • Jail Health's quality improvement program was described as one of the most comprehensive in the country.

  • A good working relationship and effective communication were observed between Adult Detention and Public Health staff.

  • Policies for the identification, referral, and evaluation of suicidal inmates were rated as "Very Good."

The DOJ monitors concluded that they are "confident the same attributes possessed by both the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention and Jail Health Services that resulted in the successful completion of this agreement will propel both agencies to sustained exemplary practices" in the areas they examined.