House OK’s Appleton bill to increase training for local jail guards

OLYMPIA — As the curtain begins to close on her 16-year career in the Legislature, Rep. Sherry Appleton watched the vote board in the state House of Representatives light up with a 98-0 tally Tuesday for her bill that stiffens training requirements for local jail guards in Washington state.

Appleton, a Poulsbo Democrat representing Kitsap County’s 23rd legislative district, introduced House Bill 2499 when she discovered that local corrections officers were placed on the job after undergoing a paucity of training compared to their counterparts in state prisons. Prison guards, like peace officers and other public safety professionals, are certified after a rigorous 10-week training course provided by the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC). Jail guards, on the other hand, have no certification program and begin their duties, firearm on hip, after just four weeks of training.

“This has been a long time coming,” Appleton said. “Jail guards in our counties and cities don’t get the training they need, yet they’re carrying guns in situations that are frequently adversarial. We want to teach them at the CJTC how to do their jobs better, how to protect themselves and our communities, and also how to keep the people they’re in charge of safer. Their certification needs to include thorough background checks, psychological evaluations, training in deescalating dangerous situations — essentially everything we require of our guards in the Department of Corrections.”

The jail-guard bill, which now heads to the Senate for consideration, might not rise to the top of the list of bills Appleton regards as her legacy; that spot is reserved for the legislation she fought for that created Washington’s Silver Alert. That common-sense law, which enlists the public to help locate seniors who have disappeared — many of them dementia or Alzheimer’s patients who have gotten lost by “wandering” — has saved lives and prevented untold heartbreak since it was enacted in 2015. But the final prime-sponsored bill of her career fits neatly into the niche she carved out during her eight two-year terms: It is designed to improve public service and make life safer for the people it affects, and it manages to treat with compassion people that many might prefer to overlook, in this case prisoners in local lockups.

Appleton announced earlier this year that she intends to retire from the Legislature at the end of the current biennium.