Governor’s independent report outlines 15 ways to make correctional facilities safer for staff

On Jan. 29, Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl was brutally murdered by an inmate with a violent past while working alone in the chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex. What came afterward were a police investigation and a mandate from the governor for an immediate, independent review by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). The NIC review resulted in a report outlining 15 recommendations.

Reps. Kirk Pearson and Chris Hurst today introduced House Bill 2036 to implement the NIC report recommendations to better protect corrections staff statewide.

“This proposal is not just a response to the terrible tragedy at the Monroe Correctional Complex, but one that will benefit all corrections officers as we move forward with common-sense safety measures,” said Pearson, R-Monroe and lead Republican on the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. “My neighbors are suffering and I know her fellow corrections staff is still reeling from the nature of the crime committed. My hope is this legislation takes a terrible event and uses it as an opportunity to better ensure the safest work environment possible in state corrections.”

“Keeping our families safe is a dangerous job,” said Hurst, D-Enumclaw, a retired undercover detective and chairman of the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. “It’s our duty to do whatever we can to safeguard corrections officers, and that’s what this legislation is about. We can’t promise that there will never be a tragedy, but we can promise to do all we can, in the memory of Jayme Biendl, to protect corrections officers in every corner of Washington state.”

House Bill 2036 would:

  • Establish one statewide security advisory committee and local committees at each facility made up of institutional staff, including custody staff, to review policies and make recommendations to Secretary Eldon Vail at the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the governor;
  • Require the DOC to establish multi-discipline offender classification teams at each facility to evaluate offender placement, job assignments and custody promotions;
  • Require the DOC to develop training curriculum regarding staff safety at correctional facilities;
  • Authorize a DOC pilot program for the use of personal body alarms and proximity cards, and mandate the hiring of a consultant to make recommendations about implementing a statewide system with the findings and recommendations presented to the governor and Legislature by Nov. 1, 2011;
  • Require the DOC to hire a consultant to study the use of video monitoring cameras and make recommendations for statewide standards for the positioning and use of the equipment with the findings presented to the governor and Legislature by Nov. 1, 2011; and
  • Authorize a DOC pilot program on the expanded use of pepper spray (OC spray) with certain staff within state facilities with the goal of developing a comprehensive plan for the statewide deployment of the spray, which must be presented to the governor and Legislature by Nov. 1, 2011.

Both lawmakers were pleased with the patience of corrections staff and DOC leaders as the investigation and independent review took place. And, they said, it serves everyone best to have all the facts before rushing to attempt fixes that may or may not address the problems that led to the events of Jan. 29.

House Bill 2036 is scheduled to have a public hearing on Wednesday, March 30, at noon in the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. Pearson and Hurst encourage citizens to weigh-in on the proposal at the public hearing or via the toll-free legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000.

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