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Gov. Inslee says state may release incarcerated inmates early as safety precaution

An overnight disturbance at the Monroe Correctional Facility. (KIRO 7)

An overnight incident at the Monroe Correctional Facility this week has state officials scrambling to keep inmates safe during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve implemented a number of strategies within the system, and that includes active screening for all individuals that come into the system,” said Steve Sinclair, secretary of the Department of Corrections.

Watch the full news conference here.

That was after over a hundred inmates at the Monroe Correctional Facility caused a disturbance and threatened to set fires Wednesday night, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Sinclair said individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Monroe broke quarantine Wednesday night and mixed with the general population in living quarters. They began vandalizing the two housing units.

Correctional facilities have increased sanitization at facilities, incarcerated individuals are getting more free soap, and they’re encouraging more hand sanitizing.

Additionally, Sinclair said they’ve crafted and edited protocols about 13 different times in the past five weeks, depending on a rapidly changing situation.

“Those protocols go into place when we have a case come into the system,” Sinclair said. “As an example, those protocols would be that an individual showing flu-like symptoms would be placed in isolation, we would test them while they’re in isolation, [and] make a determination whether they need to remain if they’re COVID positive.”

The DOC updates its website daily about coronavirus cases, according to Sinclair.

‘Strong evidence’ social distancing is working in Washington

Last Sunday, Monroe reported its first positive case. Through mapping, DOC identified six other people to test for COVID-19. Those six individuals were placed in isolation until the tests eventually came back positive. Some were moved to other housing units, which was met with resistance. At the same time, another housing unit was placed in quarantine, which was also met with resistance. The inmates eventually broke quarantine by going out into the yard, putting others at risk.

“Today we continue our efforts to move people around within the system to give them a level of isolation so that we can better protect them,” Sinclair said. “It takes everyone’s cooperation. I was extremely disappointed by what we saw at Monroe, which hasn’t been consistent with what we’ve seen at other populations around the state.”

In an effort to reduce incarcerated populations, Sinclair said they’ve been looking at inmates who are within 60 days of release, who are non-violent drug offenders, who may be allowed to leave earlier.

Inslee said they’ve also been encouraging older incarcerated populations to move into better isolated facilities, but they have refused to go.

“That’s been disappointing,” Inslee said.

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