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Did prison schedule contribute to escape attempt?

The state prison system has been getting rid of officer lunch breaks after the murder of Jayme Biendl at the Monroe facility, but the change hadn't been made at the Clallam Bay prison when two men made an escape attempt this week.

The idea to have the officers munch during their shifts was designed to keep staffing levels constant, rather than having some guards left short-staffed in a dangerous environment while others took breaks.

The state Department of Corrections made the change at its complex in Monroe within the past month, switching officers on day and swing shifts from 8.5- to 8-hour work days, and is rolling it out at the state's other major prisons.

But it hasn't yet done so at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, where a brazen escape attempt Wednesday was timed to an officer's lunch break.

While one of the two corrections officers was on a lunch break, two inmates, convicted murderer Kevin Newland and Dominick Maldonado, who shot and injured seven people during a rampage at the Tacoma Mall in 2005, put their plan into action. One inmate held the remaining officer hostage while the second grabbed a forklift and rammed through a fence.

Newland, driving the forklift, ignored verbal commands and a warning shot before an officer shot at him, said DOC spokesman Chad Lewis, and Maldonado released his hostage after seeing his partner killed.

It was too early to say whether staffing levels played a factor, Jim Smith, director of corrections and law enforcement with Teamsters Local 117, said.

"The criminal investigation is under way, and we want to make sure it's a solid investigation for prosecuting someone who assaulted our members, but we'll be looking at it thoroughly when the investigation is finished," he said.

He also said it's unclear whether the switch to 8-hour schedules without breaks is a good idea. The prisons historically had such schedules before moving to 8.5-hour shifts with meal breaks several years ago.

"This is a high-pressure, high-intensity job, and you need to be focused on the inmates," he said. "To be on for eight hours straight, without any breaks, that's also a concern."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About the Author

Chris Sullivan is a traffic reporter for KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He cares deeply about the amount of time you spend sitting in Seattle traffic.


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