King County and the South Correctional Entity have mutually agreed to end a program for inmate housing services involving the relocation of King County jail residents to the SCORE jail in Des Moines after a three-month pilot.
The cities of Renton, Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, SeaTac and Tukwila own the SCORE jail.
The program started on June 10, 2023, after the King County Council voted 7-2 to approve an ordinance in April 2023 executing an interlocal agreement between the county and South Correctional Entity for jail services.
The program was aimed to combat “unprecedented” staffing shortages and labor intensive operational changes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to documents.
In February 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit against King County after mediation between the union and King County failed to resolve the union’s concerns regarding the county’s noncompliance with the 1998 Hammer Settlement Agreement, which set requirements for King County’s jails to meet standards for correctional staffing levels, transportation, medical care, beds and more.
From July through August 2023, the program averaged around 30 King County jail residents housed, said Noah Haglund, a spokesperson for the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. King County announced the decision to end the program on Sept. 21. The South Correctional Entity announced the decision to its executive board.
As of Sept. 24, all jail residents housed at the SCORE jail through the program have returned to the custody of King County, Haglund said.
According to an email statement from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, the program ended after an “initial three-month review” as the department’s “other approaches have provided a more efficient use of staffing and jail operations than the SCORE pilot could offer.”
The alternative approaches include rebalancing populations between facilities and reopening bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, according to the email statement.
The pilot project enabled the department to evaluate SCORE housing as a potential option for temporary staffing relief, according to the statement.
In 2023, four jail residents of the SCORE jail died in separate incidents.
The deaths included that of a 42-year-old woman found unresponsive on Aug. 12; a 25-year-old man found unresponsive on June 27; a 43-year-old woman found unresponsive on May 19; and a 65-year-old man that collapsed on March 25, according to multiple news releases from the SCORE jail.
Haglund said the decision to end the contract resulted not from the deaths, attributing the decision to reasons provided in the email statement. None of the four individuals that died at the SCORE jail in 2023 served as housed under contract by King County, Haglund said.
According to county documents, the South Correctional Entity leadership acknowledged and agreed to compliance with unexpected fatality review requirements in accordance with state law and to publicly issue unexpected fatality reports in the interlocal agreement for the pilot program between King County and the jail.
King County jails continue to restrict the booking of non-violent misdemeanors to help maintain a lower daily population due to staffing limitations resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the email statement.
“[The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention] is taking numerous steps to bolster recruitment and retention, while also looking at alternative approaches to managing staff and housing resources at King County jails,” stated the department’s email.