Rantz: King County may end warrant checks on jail visitors, union sounds the alarm

Oct 18, 2022, 6:16 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2022, 11:09 am

King County jail, staffing...

An officer stands near a sign for the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

UPDATE 10/21/22 (11:05 AM) After more internal pushback, Director Nance is temporarily rescinding the policy and connecting with staff for further discussion.

UPDATE 10/21/22: In an email to staff, Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention director Allen Nance announced the plan will move forward. The email reads in part:

One of the key changes as we restore this service is that we will discontinue the practice of running warrants for all public visitors. My goal is to streamline the visitation process, maximize staffing resources, and encourage connections with family and friends. Furthermore, we should recognize the value and importance that jail visits can serve in helping to regulate behavior within the jail, as well as helping re-entry prospects once people are no longer in our custody.

The vast majority of visitors to the jail do not have outstanding warrants. Likewise, there are individuals who show up in courthouses throughout Washington state each day who potentially fall in the same category as our visitors, yet there is no similar practice that individuals are subjected to warrant checks to enter the courthouse.

King County may end criminal warrant checks on jail visitors in the latest move to assuage criminal justice reform activists. But the King County Corrections Guild (KCCG) is sounding the alarm, warning this is dangerous.

When visitors come to the jail, corrections officers check them for arrest warrants for criminal law violations, domestic violence no-contacts, and protection orders. This policy is meant to ensure the safety of the staff and the incarcerated individual.

Dennis Folk, president of the KCCG, tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that they’ve made several arrests when suspects with warrants show up at the jails.

“We’ve arrested people on a number of violent offenses, you know, DOC escape charges, you know, people that have absconded from their parole,” Folk said.

“In my career, in 25 years, I’ve probably arrested a dozen or more people myself in visiting,” Folk added.

Why the policy change?

According to Folk, he was told that the county “did not want to discourage families from seeing each other if one has a warrant.” He said the DADJ goal is to help facilitate “relationships with the family so when they [inmates] get released, they can get back into the community with support from family.”

While family support helps suspects and felons get their lives in order, family members with active warrants for their arrest might not offer the best support. And Folk said this is a clear danger. He worries that gang members will make more visits to help coordinate future crimes or to intimidate someone into silence. He’s particularly worried about domestic violence victims.

Folk said he was alerted to the policy shift by Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DADJ) director Allen Nance. After consulting with the guild board and their attorney, the union president emailed Nancy to express his “serious concerns with this decision.”

“Not only do we check for arrest warrants for criminal law violations, but we check for domestic violence no-contact, and protection orders also ensure that people are not violating the judge’s conditions in those orders,” Folk wrote in an email provided to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “These orders are issued by the courts to secure someone’s safety. As you know, DV no-contact orders are issued by a judge to forbid an individual from contacting another, and we must ensure that those orders are not violated. Not only do we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that those in our custody remain safe and that their Constitutional Rights are not violated, but we also have a responsibility to protect the citizens of King County.

“This means if a judge has ordered someone’s arrest that we follow that judge’s order and bring them before the court. We also must protect those who may be victims of domestic violence and enforce the court’s issued no-contact orders,” Folk continued.

Nance did not respond to a request for comment made through his office.

Executive says this didn’t come from his office

A spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine offered some context to the decision.

“This policy is under consideration by the department as they look to minimize staffing disruption in preparation for returning to in-person visitation. This evaluation did not come at the direction of the Executive or our office,” the spokesperson explained.

Folk stated using staffing as an excuse is just a cover. He says that, no matter the policy, they’ll always need two corrections officers at the check-in window.

“I can’t see how this is going to change our staffing or affect our staffing in any way,” Folk said.

How other jails handle the issue

Pierce County jails check visitors for warrants. It’s a matter of public safety, Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Moss explains.

“The jail is a controlled facility and we can’t just let anyone in to talk to people who are in custody,” Moss told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Their phone lines are recorded and we document who visits in person. If someone is locked up for domestic violence charges, it would be best not to have the victim visiting the offender, especially if there is a protection order in place. If the court issues warrants, it means a judge wants them to be brought before the court or taken into custody. Our job is to help catch those people with outstanding warrants and bring them before the court. It would be weird to let people we are looking for come into our facility and leave.”

In Snohomish County, however, the jail does not check for warrants. Sheriff Adam Fortney tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that they’ve not checked for at least a decade, though the current visitation is currently all remote.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: King County may end warrant checks on jail visitors, union sounds the alarm