WA DOC COVID-19 Response

For those wanting updates on DOC’s Corona virus response, here is DOC’s official (and evidently regularly updated) response info, as well as the Office of Corrections Ombuds COVID-19 resource page, which contains notes from a group phone meeting held with concerned families of prisoners on March 13, 2020. This WA Corrections Watch post was last updated on March 14, 2020 at 1:18 PM.

Things families and supporters have been hearing from prisoners at Monroe Correctional Complex:

  • No systematic protocols for screening staff have been developed.
  • Hand sanitizer, bleach, and many other virus-combating hygiene and cleaning supplies are considered contraband and are therefore not allowed in the possession of prisoners.
  • At least one staff person is reported to believe that Coronavirus is a hoax meant to damage President Trump’s political future.
  • At the WSRU unit prisoners from a quarantined unit are reported to have been allowed to have contact with prisoners from a non-quarantined unit.
  • Prisoners say staff are not being told that they can receive compensation if they need to take more than the usual approved leave for illness.
  • College programs and visits from prisoners’ families have been cancelled until further notice.
  • At least one prisoner is reported to have been held past release date in facilities imposing quarantine lockdowns.
  • There are concerns about insufficient prisoner access to immune-boosting nutrients and healthy, whole foods in WA DOC prisons.

A UW PhD candidate who has a loved one in the WA DOC system has created this form letter template for people to use when contacting legislators, the Governor’s office, DOH, etc. about Corona Virus response concerns:

Dear XXX,

On March 13, 2020 all prisoners at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe received notification that a guard who works on the A&B side of the prison tested positive for COVID19. According to the letter sent to prisoners the guard was last in the prison on March 8th. The letter to the prisoners was dated for March 12th and passed out on the morning of the 13th. A&B side will be locked down until March 22nd.Bleach and alcohol based hand sanitizers are considered contraband in the prison. Only porters are authorized to use bleach. The only cleaning supply provided is an “all purpose cleaner” that is so mild it is safe to drink. The prison is not providing people with extra rags or cleaning supplies. The DOC has told prisoners to put socks on the public pay phones to protect themselves from shared germs.There are currently upwards of 1,400 people 60 years and older incarcerated in Washington State.Given the deplorable history of medical care at Monroe (and in prison in general) it’s important that legislators such as yourself are prepared to hold DOC accountable and ensure they are providing incarcerated people with proper medical care. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make alcohol based hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, cleaning rags, latex gloves, surgical masks (for those who are sick) etc available for free and NOT considered contraband
  • Establish a quarantine location that is not in the living units and is NOT solitary confinement
  • Prepare the hospital with necessary medical equipment such as ventilators
  • Prepare to transfer those who are high risk into free world medical care
  • Have additional trained medical staff who are not DOC work with the DOC to treat patients
  • Enable the calling function on incarcerated people’s JPay tablets so that they do not need to use public phones (as of now, they’re putting up signs telling folks to put a sock over the phone if they need to)
  • Set clear limitations on the use of solitary during this time
  • Set clear limitations on the overuse of lock down during this time
  • Test all guards and staff who enter the prison
  • Make tests widely available

This is a crisis. There are tens of thousands of vulnerable people locked up and in the state’s care. Something needs to be done immediately.

Thank you,

A prisoner at MCC just sent me this on JPay: “Apparently this coming week is Sunshine Week, and TVW is highlighting what the Public Records Act means to Washingtonians.” Perhaps in honor of Sunshine Week (my new favorite week! I had no idea it existed…) we could all make some public records requests from DOC, perhaps pertaining to its Corona Virus response or its work with Vera Institute on solitary confinement reform? Or any other endless number of topics of concern… For anyone who has never tried doing this, here’s a guide.

Meeting With a State Legislator on Lobby Day? Quiz Them on WA DOC Leadership Expertise

Lobby Day is coming up on MLK Jr. Day and many constituents who would like to see reforms in WA DOC will be meeting with their legislators. It helps to have some key talking points planned out to make the best use of the brief appointments one might make with a Washington State senator or representative. We’ve put together an analysis of historical and current WA DOC expertise to give constituents some additional concrete details for their talking points. Happy lobbying!

When (and Why) Did WA DOC Prisoners Lose the Right to Wear Personal Clothing?

As documented in Greenhalgh v. Dep’t of Corr. (2014), WA DOC eliminated the right of prisoners to wear personal clothing in 2009. (See also DOC 440.000 and these early revisions of WA DOC 440.050 State-Issued Clothing/Linen.) As this Court of Appeals decisions states:

“In January 2009, DOC informed its inmates that it amended DOC 440.000 to eliminate inmate possession of excess or unauthorized personal clothing items by January 2010. Inmates had the following disposition options: (1) between July 1, 2009 and September 30, 2009, inmates could send out the clothing at DOC’s expense; (2) through December 31, 2009, inmates could give the clothing to a visitor; or (3) after December 31, 2009, inmates had 30 days to dispose of excess or unauthorized clothing. If an inmate was indigent, refused to pay postage, or failed to designate someone to receive the clothing, DOC donated or destroyed it. After January 1, 2010, all unauthorized personal clothing became contraband.”

All this after WA DOC promised hunger-striking prisoners at Washington State Penitentiary in 1999 that personal clothing would not be taken away. Was there a reason after so many decades that WA DOC staff suddenly couldn’t tell prisoners apart from non-prisoners and had no choice but to make this change? Or was this a chance for Correctional Industries to deepen their monopoly on captive consumers? Does having prisoners wear designated clothing make staff more or less vigilant about keeping track of where prisoners are and are supposed to be? Your guesses are as good as ours…

The Report Cards WA DOC Gives Itself

How would those who live, visit, and work at WA DOC prisons rate those facilities? And how would that compare to WA DOC headquarters report card ratings? Try your hand at it. Think of a WA DOC facility. Give it a grade in all of the following areas: (1) operations review (IT, security, disciplinary processes, food services, “offender” management, secured housing, searches & evidence, staff safety & accountability) and (2) health services (general, infirmary, medications, health records, restricted housing). Now compare your grades to WA DOC’s grades, which it reports in its facility-specific Operations Review Reports…

Does the Washington Department of Corrections Use Isolation or Solitary Confinement in Any Form? Deputy Prisons Director Says It Does Not

In a letter dated December 5, 2019, WA DOC Deputy Prisons Director Scott Russell stated the following:

“…the Washington State DOC does not use ‘solitary confinement’ or ‘isolation’ in any form. As you noted, and thank you for doing so, the department is currently partnered with the Vera Institute for a project to reform the use of ‘Restrictive Housing’ in the Washington DOC system. This project is sure to positively change some of the current practices that Washington DOC uses administrative segregation [sic] and we look forward to the recommendations that come from that partnership.”

Washington Corrections Watch challenges this statement here.

Can Correctional Industries be Removed as a Vendor?

Correctional Industries’ involvement in WA DOC prisoner mainline meal production began in the mid-90s and has expanded to full dominance in the years since. CI has become so entrenched in the Washington State prison food system—too big to fail, if you will—that many weary stakeholders, advocates, and oversight entities feel it would be impossible to remove CI as a vendor. However, there is legislative precedent for rescinding CI’s monopoly on a given product or operation. Here’s an example from 2012.

Washington Corrections Watch Launches – Happy Holidays!

On this Christmas Day we at Washington Corrections Watch would like to give the gift of vigilant civic engagement. Let not the taxpayers and lawmakers of Washington State blindly defer to the expertise of state correctional officials. Where deference to correctional expertise is warranted, let us never be too complacent to verify that our trust is well-placed.

The Washington Corrections Watch Project is a work in progress. Visitors to our site will notice that some parts of our site are rather skeletal at the moment. We need community involvement to develop this project. Please consider volunteering your time to help us research and request public records.

Happy Holidays!