The U.S. Justice Department said this week that King County Jail had successfully fixed myriad problems identified in a 2007 investigation.
More than four years after the U.S. Department of Justice lambasted the King County Jail for routinely violating inmates’ civil rights, the county announced Friday it has fixed the problems and satisfied all requirements of a federal government review.
County officials cited a letter sent to them by the Justice Department earlier this week that closed the department’s review. In the letter, the county was praised for “timely, proactive and tireless efforts” to address myriad problems.
“These findings from the Justice Department affirm the reforms we’ve made … while reminding us that effective reform must be ongoing and consistent over the long haul,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a news release. “Our employees work daily in an inherently volatile environment, and daily vigilance is required.”
The announcement would seem to end an ugly chapter in county history.
Most Read Local Stories
- Wondering why society went off-kilter during the pandemic? It was all predicted in this book
- These 3 Seattle scientists study the coronavirus. Now they're getting millions to chase their 'wildest scientific ideas'
- Lummi Nation woman disappears during Las Vegas trip with fiancé and friends
- There's an opening for the GOP in Washington state — and they're squandering it on conspiracies
- Coronavirus daily news updates, September 22: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
That chapter began with a trio of investigations in 2007 — one by the county ombudsman about Jail Health Services and its two pharmacies, which failed several state inspections; one by The Seattle Times, which revealed hundreds of medical errors, including one resulting in the overdose death of an inmate and the death of another from untreated flesh-eating bacteria; and, finally, the Justice Department probe.
The 27-page Justice Department report criticized almost every aspect of the jail’s operation, from inmate intake to medical treatment to internal investigations.
It focused on high suicide rates, inadequate medical care, and unnecessary and inappropriate use of force — especially the use of pepper spray and hair-pulling to control inmates.
County officials initially contested the report’s conclusions, but in January 2009 agreed to make changes and entered into a three-year monitoring agreement with the federal government. Since then, the county has adopted numerous changes, officials said Thursday.
Among them were the discontinuation of the hair-pulling technique, increased training for jail employees, replacement of plumbing and mattresses, and the establishment of more frequent and standardized clinical assessments of inmates at risk for suicide.
Those changes were enough to persuade the Justice Department to give the jail “exemplary” ratings in all categories of its final monitoring report, officials said.
“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,” Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health — Seattle and King County, said in a news release. “I want to thank them for their outstanding efforts.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.