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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Media Mistaken About King County Jail Problems

The Seattle Post Intelligencer recently printed an article about 65 cited cases of MRSA at the King County Jail within the last 5 months. While it's good that these sort of stories are being reported, there are some unfortunate inaccuracies in that report and it really doesn't do enough to describe how this should matter to the average citizen.

First, the article mistakenly suggests that the DOJ report only found fault with infection related issues:

"In a report released in November, investigators with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division suggested jail officials were failing to take basic measures to prevent the spread of such diseases, something they said could be accomplished by focusing on the personal hygiene of inmates, keeping the facility clean and laundering inmate clothing adequately."

That DOJ report also cited failures to provide medical care to detainees that resulted in at least one preventable death that occurred during the investigation. It also cited the jail for failure to protect detainees from sexual abuse by guards, failure to provide sanitary conditions, failure to prevent physical abuse by guards, and failure to adequately protect detainees from self-harm. Indeed, the civil rights violations at the jail are numerous and have been proven to be deadly, to understate them is a disservice to the community.

Next the article states that the jail has fixed those problems:
"Jail officials said they have taken several measures in recent months to improve conditions.

All inmates are now screened by nurses at booking. A new computer system allows arresting officers to determine if someone in their custody has previously been treated for tuberculosis, and a new Electronic Health Records system went online last summer, which is expected to help Jail Health nurses better track treatment of sick inmates."

...which is patently false. All inmates are not examined on booking and their treatment needs are not being tracked, as this woman's account of her recent experience in that jail proves. The problem is that they may have implemented these systems, but it appears as though there is no way to force the guards and medical workers to FOLLOW any policies to ensure they are used. Indeed, other allegations of lapses in medical care seem to indicate that denial of medical care isn't necessarily due to mistakes, but intentional withholding as a form of punishment.

Next, the report claims this:
"For years, upon booking, inmates have been given two sheets, a blanket, a towel, a pair of sandals, a single uniform, and one set of undergarments -- socks, underwear and, for women, a sports bra."

Which again isn't necessarily true, inmates have been known to go weeks without any footwear when there have been shortages in the past, this can be very problematic in the jail where the bathrooms and floors are not properly disinfected and flooding does occur from faulty bathroom drainage systems.

They also claim the following about hygienic concerns:
"As a rule, inmates can buy more underwear if someone on the outside deposits funds into an inmate account. Jail officials could not say how frequently inmates make such purchases.

"Our policy is if an inmate comes to the officer and indicates that he has some kind of soiled linen, bedding, or blanket, we exchange it at that time," Hayes said. "We don't play games."

Justice Department investigators heard something different during their review.

"Inmates informed us that the only way to obtain clean underwear is to purchase it from the commissary, or wash it themselves in the cell area using their hand/shower soap," investigators wrote in their report."

This is a bit misleading because a detainee in the jail cannot purchase items from the commissary until they are placed in the general population, until that time they are detained in "holding cells" which are large rooms that house up to 25 or more detainees (some on the floor when overcrowding occurs) in a single room. Some detainees will spend over a week in these holding cells before put in a regular cell block.

Now, detainees in general population are only allowed to order commissary once a week, and if you miss that day you must wait another week. So, many detainees transferred from holding to a regular cell can have to wait up to TWO weeks for new underwear and the soap to clean them. Plus, since they are only given a small hotel bar of soap that has to last until they make it to GP and they are not allowed to hang clothes to dry them, this means that they really don't have the opportunity to wash their underwear and clothes. Even once they make it into GP, they still can't hang underwear anywhere to dry them if they do wash them with that small bar of soap.

To say that the jail has a problem letting inmates stay clean is an understatement. Some inmates with open wounds have been left without treatment or bandages for days, and then left to use the same soiled and bloody clothes and blankets for two weeks since they are not offered a change of clothes or bedsheets until they get into a regular cell and this also happens once a week.

Now, the other problem is that people don't understand, which is made clear when you read the comments section of this paper's story, how this problem might affect them. Well, first, these detainees do get released into the population eventually and if left untreated with MRSA or TB they will spread those infections to the general public.

But, also, these are mostly pre-trial detainees at this jail. Some of whom do end up being found innocent yet were still forced to suffer that hell hole without compensation for being punished by the conditions in there despite not deserving to be punished there.

For those that think it's rare for people to mistakenly get put in that jail... think again.
Read Here and Here for recent cases of innocent people detained there, it happens quite a damn bit.

And as for the King County Councilperson's response to the article:
"King County Councilman Bob Ferguson, who is participating in settlement discussions with Justice, said the county is committed to making those improvements.

"You don't lose all your civil rights when you walk in the jail," he said."

That's not what the county executive Sims and DAJD head Holgeerts, who is in charge of the jail, seem to think. Since the council agreed with the county executive's statements insisting such conditions were not a violation of anyone's civil rights, we question the council's commitment to fixing these problems... and it's a valid question considering that these problems still appear to exist.

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