Dori: Corrections president sounds alarm over Seattle’s King County jail overnight closure
Jul 11, 2022, 2:09 PM | Updated: 2:24 pm
A significant staffing shortage within the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) prompted an eight-hour overnight closure of the county’s only currently operational jail – and local corrections officers are sounding the alarm.
King County Corrections Guild president Dennis Folk told Monday’s Dori Monson Show that he was given next to no warning about the impending 9 p.m.-6:30 a.m., Sunday-Monday, booking area closure at the county’s jail in Seattle.
“By closing the booking area, anyone arrested by a police agency in King County for a crime like DUI, domestic violence assault, or even felony charges like murder or rape will have to be held by that police agency overnight or let go pending charges,” Folk wrote to Dori during the closure.
Who’s at risk of the fallout? Dori asked.
Callers to 911, Folk told Dori’s listeners during their on-air interview.
With police emergency response times already at 10-11 minutes, officers face a tough choice when the jail’s booking station is closed, Folk said.
“There’s nobody to take them,” the guild president explained. “Officers must ask themselves, ‘Am I going to sit with them (arrested suspects) until the next day or let them go?’ What happens to those 911 calls because (police officers) are sitting with someone in the station and they can’t get to the 911 call?”
The timing, Folk said, couldn’t be worse.
“Crime has skyrocketed. We have shootings happening daily. Every time I turn on the news, there’s another murder,” Folk continued.
What’s behind the staffing shortage that caused the overnight closure? Dori questioned.
Folk cited several factors, including the early 2022 closure of the county’s only other jail – the King County Regional Justice Center (KCRJC) in Kent. It is expected to be closed through at least the end of this year due to low staffing. Also to blame: COVID.
“We’re struggling to hire people in all professions,” Folk said, adding that they have had 100 vacancies for more than a year. “We’re losing people at a rate faster than we can hire them.”
Attrition and retirements are taking their tolls, as well. When the KCRJC opened in the 1990s, Folk continued, nearly 200 officers were hired to staff that facility; half of them are now at retirement age.
“Retention” is a big problem, too, Folk explained. Corrections officers are now “mandated to work double shifts for four, five days a week.” Those 16-hour days are causing “burnout. Why would I work (for King County) when I could work with another agency and get more time off? Work conditions are so bad that nobody wants to work for King County anymore.”
Some within Folk’s ranks are concerned that King County Executive and DAJD leaders want to close downtown Seattle’s King County Jail permanently. It’s an older jail, Folk said, but there’s nothing in the budget to retrofit it.
“They can’t just close it,” he continued. “It holds a majority of our medical and psychiatric population. Where are we going to put those people? Where would they go? Drug treatments and mental health treatment facilities are overflowing at the seams. There’s a belief by a lot of my members that this is a plan to shut down the jail and put people back on the streets.
“With crime the way it is,” the corrections guild president continued, “it’s just not safe out there.”
Listen to Dori Monson weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.