March 21, 2011 in City, Region

Gregoire: Prison guards should wear body alarms

Associated Press
 

Corrections officers in the state should wear personal body alarms, carry pepper spray and make other safety improvements to avoid future attacks like the one that killed a guard at the Monroe prison in January, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

The governor went to the Washington State Reformatory at Monroe to announce the findings by the National Institute of Corrections into the Jan. 29 slaying of Jayme Biendl in the prison chapel. Biendl was working alone and was strangled to death during a struggle.

“In the face of that loss, we resolved to find out what happened and to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent another such attack on our corrections officers,” Gregoire said. “Jayme’s legacy will be enhanced protection of her co-workers, who face inherent dangers while on the job.”

Gregoire was joined by Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail and a consultant with the National Institute of Corrections, Joan Palmateer.

Proposed safety improvements: add staff who are responsible for the whereabouts of all employees; improve the current radio system; test a proximity card system to track staff locations; develop a standardized system for proximity cards, body alarms and video surveillance to present to the Legislature; train supervisors on enhanced security awareness to combat complacency; and temporarily reduce overcrowding in prisons, including an end to double-bunking at the Washington State Reformatory.

The state faces big budget deficits, but the Department of Corrections will work with legislators to implement the recommendations, Vail said.

“The experts at NIC identified many areas where we can improve,” he said.

Corrections took some immediate actions after Biendl’s death to improve safety. Prisons statewide have created systems that better account for staff if an inmate can’t be found, increased monitoring of single-person guard posts and have conducted drills on the use of silent alarms.

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