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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Whitewashing the Deadly King County Jail

King County issued a press release yesterday regarding how they are taking steps to address the Department of Justice investigative findings of blatant and deadly constitutional rights abuses that have been occurring at the King County Jail located in Seattle. While this would seem like a positive step at first blush, when taken in context with other statements coming out of King County government and specific statements from Reed Holtgeerts, the head of the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detentions (DAJD), who is responsible for running the King County Jail, it becomes an obvious whitewash effort.

King County Executive Ron Sims and DAJD head Reed Holtgeerts issued a slightly different press release just prior to the official release of the DOJ findings of potentially deadly civil rights abuses that agreed with the findings of abuse but disputed the fact of these findings equating to abuses of constitutionally protected rights. Now, since they agree with the abuses that occurred to detainees in their jail, some of which happened while DOJ investigators were visiting, their insistence that these abuses are not a violation of civil rights can only be taken to mean that Sims and Holtgeerts are of the opinion that detainees have no rights to be protected from potentially deadly abuses at the hands of their guards.

Since both appear to be asserting that detainees have no rights to protect, and since the King County council also agreed with this press release in their latest hearing on the subject of the DOJ investigation, it appears as though the King County government is insisting that there is no reason to comply with the DOJ investigation’s resulting recommendations of what it would take the King County Jail to become constitutionally sound.

When this insistence that detainees have no rights is viewed in combination with other statements from Holgeerts regarding past abuses of detainees this perception is further justified. Consider that Holtgeerts insisted that the issue of guards being caught sexually abusing detainees was merely a “training issue”. Yes, Holtgeerts insists that sexual abuse is a training issue, which we can assume means rapists should just be offered training.

But now, yet again, in the case of these latest abuse findings he is still insisting that abusing detainees and intentionally denying them access to medical care is another “training issue”. What’s worse is that he insists these problems can be fixed by offering guards “the option of additional training”, which makes King County’s response to the DOJ findings especially troublesome.

Also consider that, while King County insists that it is working to improve internal investigative capabilities, it is still not fixing the biggest problem involved with catching abuses, that being the kite system. Detainees can only make reports of abuse via a kite which is a paper form that is filled out by the detainee and handed to a guard on duty, who is supposed to turn the form over to the proper channel. What happens is that nothing really prevents that guard from just throwing the kite away.

The kite system is also the method detainees must use to request medical assistance, which is how guards can intentionally deny medical care to detainees that they have been told to ignore. So, we see that these deadly abuses are more than a training issue; it is a fundamental flaw in the abuse reporting system that no amount of training will fix. Therefore, by saying these problems are training issues, Holtgeerts is being flatly disingenuous.

Clearly, King County’s efforts are not geared towards fixing the problems, but towards a thinly veiled PR initiative that they hope will mollify the Department of Justice so that they won’t be required to actually fix any problems and continue to allow guards to abuse detainees. Until there is more pressure made to bear, it appears as though these deadly problems will continue despite the DOJ’s scathing investigation, and despite Holgeerts and Sims efforts to cover up the fundamental flaws at their brutally deadly jail.

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