Mayors put pressure on King County Jail to start accepting booking, get offenders off the street

The King County jail system is facing more public – and now mayoral pressure – to hold more inmates in custody and investigate why the number of jail-related deaths have been increasing.

In an open letter released on Thursday, the mayors of eight south King County cities complained about a broken justice system.

"When did the rights of the person who's choosing to shoot up in one of our parks become more important than the rights of the child who wants to use that park to play?" It's backwards," Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus told FOX 13.

The letter also included criticism of bookings, or the lack of them at the two King County Jails

"The Regional Justice Center has been closed off to south county cities for booking, which is really unacceptable," said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who is also a candidate for King County Prosecutor.

Both the jail at the RJC in Kent and in downtown Seattle are suffering staffing shortages. The number of correction officers with King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention is down 10% for budgeted levels for 2022.

The jail has intentionally kept the jail's population down for social distancing purposes. Prior to the pandemic, the jail population was hovering around 1,900 people

Then came policies of not keeping people arrested for non-violent offenses and other measures to keep the population around 1,300.  Now that the courts are ramping back up from a pandemic closure, more cases are being filed by prosecutors and the jail's population has claimed to an average of 1,600 inmates a day.

"If the county, the prosecutor and the jail level aren’t right, again, if any one of those pieces is missing, the system doesn't work" said Kent Mayor Dana Ralph.

In response to the mayors' letter, a spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine defended the choice to put fewer people behind bars.

"We will continue to partner with any government committed to working productively to deliver safety rather than clinging to obsolete practices and mindsets that no longer keep our communities safe," said Chase Gallagher, Director of Communications.

There's also the issue of recent suicides and jail-related deaths.

"You know, every fatality is a tragedy," John Diaz, the Director of King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention told the Law and Justice Committee of the King County Council in June.

A 59-year-old man was taken to Harborview Medical Center on July 28 from the jail.  He died five days later of unknown circumstances as of this writing.

His is at least the sixth jail-related death in 2022. At least three have been suicides.

"Unfortunately, these deaths that have occurred - suspected by suicide - actually have not occurred in places where we have deemed people at most risk," Danobra McBride, the Director of King County Jail Health Services to the King County Council committee.

Starting in 2021, jails across the state have to report the results of all jail-related deaths to the public for better transparency.

Diaz says the county is working hard to find correction officers to fill vacant positions and may change inmate observation practices in light of the recent death.

"We’ve been single bunking almost everybody for two years and for very good reasons to protect people from COVID, but I think that does add to isolation," said Diaz of the death.  "I’m excited to say that we are working on getting everyone (jail inmates) a tablet for entertainment purposes and to help them get a job when they get out."

Inmate dies at hospital 5 days after being transferred from King County Jail

Authorities are investigating after an inmate from the King County Correctional facility died five days after being taken to the hospital.