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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Seattle City Jail

In efforts to alleviate overcrowding problems at the King County Corrections Facility, otherwise known as the King County Jail, and in anticipation of a growing number of incarcerated citizens in the future the city of Seattle is contemplating building it's own jail to house pre-trial and convicted defendants.

Of course, neighborhood groups have launched opposition to the new jail based on the usual NIMBY complaints. However, nobody has been concerned about the human rights issues involved with letting a city that has a history of keeping misconduct records away from public scrutiny and being lax on disciplining officers found to have participating in misconduct operate it's own jail. For a city with a record of rights abuses, the prospect of it also assuming sole responsibility for the humane treatment of pre-trial detainees is disconcerting.

Given how the city has repeatedly failed to negotiate effective oversight and accountability reforms with the city's police union, one would assume that they will have similar difficulties working a functional disciplinary process into a contract it negotiates with any jail employees as well... that is if the city isn't coerced by the police union into handing control of the jail over to it's own unaccountable police department.

Given that the guild has opposed the city's efforts to supplement it's police force in other areas, such as the creation of a group of "park rangers" to provide security at city parks based on claims that this takes away jobs from union officers, it makes sense that the guild will put pressure on the city to let them manage the new facility if it is controlled solely by the city of Seattle. Also given the union's ability to force the city to cave in on accountability reforms while still giving officers a record breaking raise in the latest contract, it seems that this will be the likely result.

With the SPD running the jail, the ability to detect cases of unreported use of force by police officers will be greatly diminished since officers will be able to keep detainees from being seen by medical professionals at the jail, much as they've done at the King County Jail until the DOJ came in and hammered that facility for failing to provide medical care for it's detainees. Without that division of accountability and oversight of detainee care, it becomes more likely that detainees will be abused in custody. By putting the control of pre-trial detainees under a single department in a city where oversight and accountability are so problematic, the potential risk for abusive behaviors becomes too great to ignore.

Eventually, the city will find a site for it's jail where NIMBY complaints are less problematic for the politicians if the city does eventually decide to run it's own jail. Preferably the city will instead decide to join with other area municipalities to create a regional facility where the city and it's police department have less control and influence over the running of that jail, it's policies for detainee treatment, and who that jail employs under what kind of contract.

Because we know the city is not concerned with human rights, and failing to see the need for such considerations, the city will need to boost the funds set aside for defense against federal civil rights lawsuits and class actions such as the wave of suits that is just now starting to form against King County for it's own failure to protect the human rights of detainees in it's own infamous facility in downtown Seattle.

So, from a human rights perspective, as well as a consideration for tax payer cost effectiveness, we strongly urge the city to consider partnering with other are cities to build a regional facility to house detainees. Otherwise the risks for abuse and subsequent associated costs are just too great to ignore.

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