A proposed settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over conditions at the King County Jail was authorized this week by the Metropolitan King County Council, which also approved close to $2 million to fund implementation of the agreement. Members said they will continue to closely monitor and oversee conditions at the facility.
"The allegations in the DOJ report are very disturbing and the Council will continue its oversight role to ensure that we improve conditions at the facility," said Council Vice Chair Bob Ferguson, who chaired last year's Operating Budget Committee and closely monitored the settlement negotiations.
"Humane treatment for those in the criminal justice system is one of the founding principles of our democracy, so it's important that we make rapid progress on improving safety conditions at the King County Jail," said Councilmember Larry Phillips. "The Council must have a strong oversight role in ensuring the settlement agreement is implemented."
In 2007, the Department of Justice, after investigating practices at the King County Jail, alleged that certain conditions violated the constitutional rights of inmates in three specific areas: the protection of inmates from harm, the protection of inmates from self-harm and access to adequate medical care.
Throughout 2008, the Council's Operating Budget, Fiscal Management, and Select Issues committee received numerous briefings on DOJ's investigation and the County's response to the allegations. On Jan. 16, 2008, the committee discussed the issue at length and received a detailed report on DOJ's findings and the County's preliminary response. Eight subsequent briefings were held and the committee provided input into the negotiations.
The County has already taken actions to improve practices at the facility, including:
• Creation of a Use of Force Review Board, which meets regularly;
• Review of all suicide prevention policies and procedures;
• Development of an updated assessment procedure to ensure that inmates are placed in the appropriate housing unit;
• Twice-daily meetings involving corrections and health personnel working in the Psychiatric Housing Unit.
The agreement, in which the county does not admit that DOJ's allegations are true, is the result of settlement negotiations between DOJ and representatives of King County. It identifies practices and requirements that the county will undertake in the King County Correctional Facility.
Procedurally, DOJ will file a lawsuit against the county after the agreement is signed. DOJ and the county will then file a joint motion for conditional dismissal of the lawsuit should the county after three years or less achieve substantial compliance with the terms of the agreement in four areas: protection from harm, suicide prevention, medical care, and environmental health.
The agreement identifies and appoints a third-party monitor who will oversee King County's compliance with its terms.