King County increases number of inmates at its Kent jail

Nearly 400 transfers to Kent from Seattle since March in effort to increase safety, boost staffing

Since March, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention has moved nearly 400 inmates to its Kent jail from its Seattle facility.

The Maleng Regional Justice Center, 401 Fourth Ave. N., in Kent now houses around 40% of the average daily jail population, up from around 25% earlier this year, according to a June 29 news release from King County Executive Dow Constantine. The inmates were transferred from the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle.

Jail officials said the changes will help increase safety, boost staffing and ensure the health of individuals in custody.

In May, the Kent facility had an average daily population of 353, up from 257 in January, according to county jail reports. The Seattle jail had an average daily populatin of 1,082 in May, down from 1,227 in January.

Jail staff have rebalanced the in-custody population between its facilities resulting in the closure of an entire floor of the downtown jail, removed potential risk factors in cells and increased training to prevent overdoses.

“The department’s efforts over the past year are examples of what we are able to achieve with focus, commitment to mission, vision, and values, and an unyielding pursuit of excellence,” said Allen Nance, director of Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. “Our work is not done, and we are excited by the opportunities that lie ahead. I want to thank DAJD employees and Jail Health staff and their representative unions for their collaboration in finding solutions for the people we serve.”

The transfers have reduced the downtown jail population by around a third, which has allowed jail officials to close an additional floor of the facility to utilize staff more efficiently rather than being spread throughout the building, according to the news release. This rebalancing has increased staffing capabilities at both facilities, and increases access to recreation yards and in-person and professional visitation.

The rebalancing between facilities is happening while booking restrictions remain in place for nonviolent low-level offenses, as agreed to by jail officials and their legal system partners. These restrictions have lowered the overall average daily population by nearly 25% since 2019, from 1,977 to 1,470 on average. While the non-violent misdemeanor restrictions have been in place, law enforcement has always had the ability to request booking exceptions, and felony bookings have continued throughout this period.

The transfers have also allowed county jail officials and Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Jail Health Services to create a dedicated housing unit at the Kent facility that serves people receiving medication-assisted treatment. As of mid-June, this unit was able to accommodate more than 100 of the approximately 150 people receiving treatment through Jail Health’s Medications for Opioid Use Disorder program, which is the gold standard of treatment and has been shown to reduce post-incarceration overdoses by 50% or more, according to the news release.

Along with transferring individuals to Kent, a new pilot project to utilize the South Correctional Entity (SCORE jail) in Des Moines will allow the initial transfer of up to 60 residents from county facilities to better match detention populations to available staffing resources. The pilot program began in June and may run through the end of 2024. As of this week, SCORE was housing approximately 30 jail residents on behalf of King County.

SCORE is owned by the cities of Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, Renton, SeaTac and Tukwila. The city of Kent operates its own jail for misdemeanor crimes.

Like the community at large, correctional facilities are confronting an increase in overdoses, particularly stemming from suspected fentanyl use. County jail officials are training staff to more quickly identify potential overdoses and has deployed Narcan throughout housing units and in the booking areas at both jails.

As part of the department’s commitment to safety, staff conduct routine searches and use body scanners when individuals are booked in the facility. Staff receive training and use enhanced screening for contraband, including cell searches and the use of drug-sniffing dogs, and jail officials are reviewing new drug-detection technology to increase capacity to identify various types of potential contraband. Earlier this year, the department launched a drug interdiction group specifically focused on intercepting and disrupting the flow of dangerous drugs and other contraband from entering the facilities.

Safety improvements

The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention is implementing several harm-reduction measures, including retrofitting cells to remove potential dangers to jail residents, according to the news release. A retrofit project to remove gaps between beds and walls at the Seattle jail is around 85% complete and on track to finish by the end of August, covering four of five residential floors. The project has already completed retrofits in all prioritized areas of potential increased risk.

Additional harm-reduction measures include replacing bed sheets with blankets, implementing physical barriers, limiting over-the-counter medication distribution, and increasing training to prevent suicides.

Other actions

Since March, in-person public visitation has been available for all housing units in both jails. Due to ongoing staffing constraints, visitation is limited to set times each week, based on housing unit. New computer tablets for residents will increase access to approved phone calls, education and vocational services.

The department continues to recruit officers to fill the 100 vacancies in the workforce, including hiring more than 40 new corrections officers this year, according to the news release. Hiring incentives of up to $25,000 are available, and the county increased compensation for corrections officers and sergeants in a new contract with the King County Corrections Guild ratified last year.