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King County jails tackle staffing challenges, overdose risks, and other improvements

DAJD has transferred individuals between the downtown jail and the Kent facility to better balance staffing capabilities with the in-custody population, lowering the downtown jail population by one-third and providing improved confinement conditions for jail residents. DAJD is also using new training to prevent overdoses and investing in safety retrofits.

King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) has taken a number of steps to increase safety, boost staffing, and ensure the health of individuals in custody. DAJD staff have rebalanced the in-custody population between its facilities resulting in the closure of an entire floor of the downtown jail, removed potential risk factors in cells, and increased training to prevent overdoses.

“The Department’s efforts over the past year are examples of what we are able to achieve with focus, commitment to mission, vision, and values, and an unyielding pursuit of excellence,” said Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Allen Nance. “Our work is not done, and we are excited by the opportunities that lie ahead. I want to thank DAJD employees and Jail Health staff and their representative unions for their collaboration in finding solutions for the people we serve.”

Rebalancing in-custody population to staffing capabilities

Since March, DAJD has transferred nearly 400 residents of the downtown King County Corrections Facility (KCCF) to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. The Kent facility now houses around 40% of the average daily jail population, up from around 25% earlier this year.

The transfers have reduced the downtown jail population by around a third, which has allowed DAJD to close an additional floor of the facility to utilize staff more efficiently rather than being spread throughout the building. This rebalancing has increased staffing capabilities at both facilities, and increases access to recreation yards and in-person and professional visitation.

The rebalancing between facilities is happening while booking restrictions remain in place for non-violent low-level offenses, as agreed to by DAJD and its legal system partners. These restrictions have lowered the overall average daily population by nearly 25% since 2019, from 1,977 to 1,470 on average. While the non-violent misdemeanor restrictions have been in place, law enforcement has always had the ability to request booking exceptions, and felony bookings have continued throughout this period.

The transfers have also allowed DAJD and Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Jail Health Services (JHS) to create a dedicated housing unit at the MRJC that serves people receiving medication-assisted treatment. As of mid-June, this unit was able to accommodate more than 100 of the approximately 150 people receiving treatment through Jail Health’s Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) program. MOUD is the gold standard of treatment and has been shown to reduce post-incarceration overdoses by 50% or more.

SCORE Pilot Project

Along with transferring individuals to MRJC, a new pilot project to utilize the SCORE facility in Des Moines will allow the initial transfer of up to 60 residents from DAJD facilities to better match detention populations to available staffing resources. The pilot program began in June and may run through the end of 2024. As of this week, SCORE was housing approximately 30 jail residents on behalf of King County.

Preventing Overdoses

Like the community at large, correctional facilities are confronting an increase in overdoses, particularly stemming from suspected fentanyl use. DAJD is training staff to more quickly identify potential overdoses and has deployed Narcan throughout housing units and in the booking areas at both jails.

As part of DAJD’s commitment to safety, staff conduct routine searches and use body scanners when individuals are booked in the facility. Staff receive training and use enhanced screening for contraband, including cell searches and the use of drug-sniffing dogs, and DAJD is reviewing new drug-detection technology to increase capacity to identify various types of potential contraband. Earlier this year, the department launched a drug interdiction group specifically focused on intercepting and disrupting the flow of dangerous drugs and other contraband from entering the facilities.

Safety Improvements

DAJD is implementing several harm-reduction measures, including retrofitting cells to remove potential dangers to jail residents. A retrofit project to remove gaps between beds and walls at the KCCF is around 85% complete and on track to finish by the end of August, covering four of five residential floors. The project has already completed retrofits in all prioritized areas of potential increased risk.

Additional harm-reduction measures include replacing bedsheets with blankets, implementing physical barriers, limiting over-the-counter medication distribution, and increasing training to prevent suicides.

Other actions

Since March, in-person public visitation has been available for all housing units in both jails. Due to ongoing staffing constraints, visitation is limited to set times each week, based on housing unit. New computer tablets for residents will increase access to approved phone calls, education, and vocational services.

DAJD continues to recruit officers to fill the 100 vacancies in the workforce, including hiring more than 40 new Corrections Officers this year. Hiring incentives of up to $25,000 are available, and DAJD increased compensation for Corrections Officers and Sergeants in a new contract with the King County Corrections Guild ratified last year.