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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: prisons

Cats outnumber inmates at Fla. prison

BELLE GLADE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say dozens of cats that sneaked into a South Florida prison will be found new homes before the facility closes next month.

As many as 80 cats have burrowed under fences and taken up residence at the state-run prison in Belle Glade. Prisoners have been feeding the animals, even though rules prohibit that.

The 1,000-inmate prison closes Dec. 1. Officials tell The Palm Beach Post that as of Monday, there are more cats than prisoners at the facility. Just 69 inmates remain awaiting transfers.

Palm Beach County animal control officers are removing the cats so they won't starve when the prison closes. They're offering to waive adoption fees to find them new homes.

Some of the cats have been euthanized because they were feral and couldn't be adopted.

Facebook asked to disable inmate pages

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington prison officials have asked social media giant Facebook to disable inmate accounts.

Department spokesman Chad Lewis says inmates are not allowed to have Internet access. He says Facebook accounts are sometimes set up by relatives or by inmates with contraband cell phones.

Lewis tells Northwest News Network that so far the communications have mostly been with friends and family and not for criminal activity. But the department is asking Facebook for the same deal the company recently struck with California prisons, where some sinister activity had been alleged.

California officials say they found an inmate who used social media to track down his victim.

Prisons chief quit after affair uncovered

 

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington’s former secretary of corrections said Tuesday that he abruptly departed his job last week because of an extramarital affair with a subordinate.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Eldon Vail said that he learned last week of a video that apparently showed him and the employee leaving a motel near Olympia. He said he heard rumors that the video may be made public, so he decided his only choice was to resign.

“This is no one’s fault but my own,” Vail, 59, told The Times. “It’s not the employee’s fault. It is not my wife’s fault.” 

Read the rest of the Associated Press story here.

Escapee knocks on off-duty guard’s door

SEATTLE (AP) — An escaped convict was caught following a day on the loose after he knocked on a cabin door — only to find out the man renting the lodge was an off-duty guard at the prison he just fled.

Authorities said 39-year-old James Edward Russell took off from the prison near Forks Tuesday morning. Early the next day, Russell — still wearing his prison uniform — went to the cabin asking to use the phone, said Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis on Thursday.

After a scuffle, Russell ran off again, Lewis said. The guard, whose name was being withheld by authorities, reported the incident and Russell was caught a few hours later.

He had been serving time for forgery and theft.

Apparent suicide at in prison at Connell

CONNELL, Wash. (AP) — Coyote Ridge Corrections Center officials say the death of an inmate found hanging in his cell appears to be a suicide.

Spokeswoman Lori Wonders says 26-year-old Michael Araiza was found Saturday and could not be revived by corrections officers and medical staff.

The Tri-City Herald reports he was in the general prison population but didn't have a cellmate.

Araiza had been at the Connell prison since November 2010, serving a sentence from King County for assault with a deadly weapon. He was set to be released in June 2013.

State prison staff waiting for more safety

State prison guards who were promised safer working conditions following the Jan. 29 slaying of a corrections officer in Western Washington are still waiting.

At Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, for example, self-defense pepper spray that experts recommend all officers carry while on duty remains locked up in an armory that only certain employees can open.

Other changes recommended by a panel whose report has been embraced by Gov. Chris Gregoire are still potentially months away from being implemented.

“We’re waiting to see if anything is going to come of this,” said Darren Kelly, president of the Washington Staff Assault Task Force and a corrections officer at Airway Heights. But he is skeptical the recommended changes will be made promptly enough. He added that the lack of staff and proper safety gear create ongoing workplace hazards.

Read the rest of Chelsea Bannach's story here.

Several probes into DOC officer’s death

MONROE, Wash. (AP) — Several investigations are under way in the strangling death of Monroe Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl.

Monroe police must wrap up their investigation of suspected inmate Byron Scherf, a Spokane area sex offender, before the Monroe Correctional Complex can conduct its own investigation, The Daily Herald of Everett reported Wednesday.

 Police served more search warrants in the past few days and are wrapping up interviews and collecting evidence, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.

 “They're slowing down, but it's continuing,” she said Tuesday.

The newest search warrants were for records and paperwork documenting Scherf's life, she said. That includes records for housing, education and his brief stint in the military. Investigators also are looking through his medical records, including his history of medications and psychological evaluations.

As of Tuesday night, Scherf had declined to speak with investigators, Willis said.

Scherf, 52, is a convicted rapist serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The state Department of Labor and Industries also is investigating. It will determine whether state workplace safety laws were violated, agency spokesman Hector Castro said. That agency is required by law to finish its investigation in six months. If those officials find something wrong, they can issue citations and fines.

And, Gov. Chris Gregoire wants an independent review by the federal National Institute of Corrections.

Biendl, 34, was found Jan. 29 in the prison chapel at the Washington State Reformatory.

Monroe police will forward their completed investigation to Snohomish County prosecutors, who will decide on charges. Killing a corrections officer can lead to the death penalty in Washington.

Monroe Correctional Complex Superintendent Scott Frakes said he must wait until police are finished before investigating what happened the night Biendl was killed. Among other things, he wants to know why it took more than an hour to find Biendl after Scherf was apprehended in the chapel lobby.

DOC changes policies after officer slain

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state Department of Corrections is changing some of its procedures in response to the killing of a female guard at the Monroe prison last weekend.

Jayme Biendl was found strangled in the prison's chapel last Saturday night. An inmate has been arrested in the killing.

Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail said Friday that prisons immediately will begin counting staff members whenever an offender is missing; officers will begin regularly checking in on guards who serve at duty posts alone; and prisons will start conducting drills on the use of silent alarms on the hand-held radios that guards carry.

In addition, the department says it will no longer hold modified lockdowns once a month at the state's eight major prisons. The lockdowns coincided with furloughs of nonessential staff to save money. Spokesman Chad Lewis says that stopping the lockdowns will make the prisons safer because those nonessential staff members will be present.

Biendl had previously complained that she didn't feel safe working alone in the prison chapel.

2 prior attacks on women at state prison

SEATTLE (AP) — Two other women were assaulted in the past six months at the Washington state prison where a female guard was strangled, adding to questions about the safety of prison workers.

Officer Jayme Biendl, 34, was killed Saturday night in a chapel at the reformatory unit for medium-security inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex, about 30 miles northeast of Seattle.

Union officials have questioned why she was alone after complaining to supervisors about being the only guard working in the chapel without anyone checking on her. Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday called for an outside investigation focusing on whether prisons are adequately staffed.

Police say their prime suspect is inmate Byron Scherf, serving a life sentence after convictions for two violent rapes, including one in which the victim was bound and set on fire. He had served as a chapel volunteer after a decade of good behavior behind bars.

Scherf, 52, was found by guards outside the chapel after he missed a head count, and he told them he had tried to escape but changed his mind. Biendl's body was found about an hour later when she failed to check in at the end of her shift.

Police say there is no evidence Biendl was raped; she was fully clothed and wearing a coat when found.

Monroe prison Superintendent Scott Frakes said that on Sept. 24, an inmate put his hands on the neck of a counselor.

“He somehow inappropriately grabbed her,” Frakes told The Daily Herald of Everett.

The case was investigated as a possible fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.

On Aug. 24, a female custodian reported being grabbed by an inmate in a maintenance department office.

Frakes said she was able to pull away from the inmate and run out of the room. She took a medical leave and recently returned to a different job, he said.

That case remains under investigation. No charges have been filed in either incident.

Monroe police say they also investigated two reported assaults on male workers at the complex last year, including one in which a guard broke his wrist after being tackled by an inmate in a unit for mentally ill offenders.

Frakes said the greatly outnumbered officers and prison staff also routinely endure such things as having feces thrown at them, being spit on and bumped into.

He said he would like the state Legislature to make such incidents crimes.

Prison guards seek assault compensation

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A few days after a state corrections officer was killed in a state prison, prison guards lobbied for a change in law that would allow them to collect money from the inmates who assault them.

Supporters of the bill say it's not about the money, but about deterrence.

Attorney Brandon L Johnson says that taking money from the inmates will limit their access to everyday foods and other goods that they are allowed to purchase in prison. Inmates who work make little money, sometimes as low as $.65 an hour.

The bill sets inmate income deductions for prison guards of 20 percent for gross wages, 15 percent from any gratuities and 20 percent from all other deposits.

Officials say that 34-year-old prison guard Jayme Biendl was killed Saturday night at Monroe Correctional Complex's chapel by a convicted rapist.

Inmate fighting locks down state prison

WALLA WALLA, Wash. (AP) — Two more units at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla have been locked down because of a fight.

The disturbance escalated to include more than 20 inmates Monday. The prison said in a statement that three officers reported injuries and are being evaluated. No inmates suffered serious injuries.

The cause of the fight is being investigated.

Two other units remain under lockdown following a fight last week that involved nearly 50 inmates. One of those units is expected to return to normal operations on Tuesday.

Cuts could ax 45 jobs at Airway prison

Cuts at Washington state prisons will eliminate about 45 jobs at Airway Heights Corrections Center and could cancel a rehabilitative program designed to prepare inmates for reentry to society.

“It’s going to have very real impacts,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. “It’s just a tough time.”

Eldon visited the prison Wednesday to discuss nearly $53 million in cuts the Department of Corrections could have to make as the state looks for ways to balance its troubled budget.

Read the rest of my story here.

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