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Sunday, October 2, 2022

King County Takes Action To Reduce COVID Outbreaks And Ensure Safety Of Inmates

King County Executive Dow Constantine

In response to recent COVID-19 impacts stemming from the Omicron surge, the Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention (DAJD) has prioritized key actions related to the health and safety of employees and people in custody by continuing to maintain modified visitation polices, booking restrictions, and PPE requirements that have been in place since early in the pandemic.

Along with the surge in COVID cases in the general public, a surge in cases occurred in the DAJD inmate and staff population as well. More than half of the total COVID-19 cases at King County jails have occurred since mid-December 2021, which is true for both staff and people in custody. According to officials, DAJD has reported no deaths during the pandemic, and only two people in custody have been hospitalized.

“Health and safety are our top concerns at the jails, and throughout the pandemic DAJD has taken all available steps to follow public health guidance and ensure that everyone in our facilities can be there safely,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We are committed to doing what’s best for our frontline employees, people in custody, and visitors, including the attorneys and other professionals who serve the jail population.”

During the pandemic, DAJD has focused on lowering the average daily population, and began booking restrictions in March 2020. At this point, people booked into King County jails are almost exclusively those accused of felonies – or of misdemeanors that pose a serious risk of harming others, such as assaults, domestic violence charges, and DUIs.

These restrictions have reduced average daily population by about 500 compared to the population prior to the pandemic.

DAJD has tripled capacity in its Electronic Home Monitoring program as an alternative to jail and the Community Corrections Division also modified another alternative that provides participants with structured programming instead of jail.

While these have been effective solutions, challenges remain as it is the courts, not the jail, that determine when people are released from custody. Additionally, the jails do not control who is brought in by law enforcement for booking.

As of Feb. 1, 806 people had tested positive while in custody at the county jails over the past two years. During that same time period, there have been nearly 30,000 bookings. There are currently 61 positive cases and an additional 63 people in quarantine.

Also as of Feb. 1, 16 detained youth had tested positive for COVID-19 at the Patricia H. Clark Children & Family Justice Center (CFJC) since the start of the pandemic. During the same time period, the facility had admitted 685 youths. Of the 31 youth in custody today, one was positive.

All employees working at the jail are vaccinated as of late December 2021. DAJD has required masks in its secure detention facilities since early in the pandemic and provides personal protective equipment for staff. Self-administered COVID-19 tests are also provided on-site.

King County corrections has approximately 900 employees, including more than 550 uniformed jail staff and more than 100 uniformed juvenile division staff at the CFJC.

From March 2020 through the end of January 2022, 349 employees with DAJD tested positive for COVID-19, with 195 of these cases occurring since December 13, 2021. Currently, there are 33 uniformed jail staff on COVID leave.

To improve safety, Jail Health Services provides multiple vaccination opportunities to people housed at the jail, as well as regular testing. As of January 25, 2022 nearly 65% of the jail population is vaccinated and Jail Health Services is providing incentives to participate in education sessions for those who are vaccine hesitant and working on additional incentive ideas to further encourage vaccination.

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