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Officials defend prison policies

Prison officials say there’s no way they could have predicted an assault last week that led to the death of an Airway Heights Corrections Center inmate.

Stanley G. Hunter died Wednesday at Deaconess Medical Center, one day after he was attacked by another inmate. Officials refused to name the man under investigation for the assault. He has not been charged.

This is the first time an inmate has been killed at Airway Heights, said facility spokeswoman Risa Klemme. “I’m not saying that we haven’t had offenders assault one another, but no one has ever died.”

The Spokane County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy, officials said Monday, but the cause of the 55-year-old inmate’s death has not been determined.

Hunter was housed in the minimum-security area, where he slept in a dormitory with 30 other inmates, Klemme said. There are no security cameras in the area, and corrections officers patrol the dormitory about once an hour.

“Not having cameras in the dormitory areas of a minimum-security area is typical,” said Mike Kenney, a prison administrator for Eastern Washington facilities. “Minimum security prisoners require less observation and less supervision; that’s the nature of the classification.

And “hourly supervision meets the standard we are accustomed to,” Kenney said.

Airway Heights houses about 500 prisoners in minimum security and 1,550 in medium security, officials said.

“I think it’s a very well-run institution,” Kenney said. “I’ve seen very bad things happen in even the best-run facilities. I think the quotient we are dealing with here is the human factor,” which is impossible to predict.

Hunter’s death was the fourth caused by another inmate in Washington state prisons since 2004, officials said Wednesday.

Hunter arrived at Airway Heights in August 2006, Klemme said. He was serving a sentence for forgery and drug possession. Both crimes were committed in Snohomish County, according to court records. His earliest release date would have been in July 2008.

Hunter had no record of disciplinary problems at the facility, Klemme said.

The assault that led to Hunter’s death happened about 9:45 p.m. March 13 after the inmates had gone to the dormitory for the evening, officials said. No weapon was used, Klemme said.

“Many factors play into preventing inmate violence: attentiveness by staff, the way the staff interacts with them, the way the prison is set up,” Kenney said. “Prison overpopulation can exacerbate the problem.

“The fact that Airway Heights hasn’t had this happen before speaks to the management,” Kenney said. “It also isn’t an indication that they’ve failed.”

The man suspected in Hunter’s assault is being kept in segregation at the Airway Heights facility, Klemme said. Airway Heights Police Department is assisting in the investigation.

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