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Thursday, August 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Yakima County jail head: Little choice but to drop off inmates in parking lot

The Yakima County jail. (Gordon King / Yakima Herald-Republic)
The Yakima County jail. (Gordon King / Yakima Herald-Republic)
By Donald W. Meyers Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA – After complaints about dropping them off in a parking lot, a top Yakima County corrections official said King County prisoners being released from the North Front Street jail will be taken to a state office in Seattle.

Seattle and state Department of Corrections officials raised concerns after the airing of a video showing county corrections officers letting three inmates go in a parking lot underneath an Interstate 5 overpass last week.

But Yakima County Department of Corrections Director Ed Campbell said part of the fault is with Seattle officials and others who have complained about previous attempts to drop off released inmates at locations designated in the contract with King County.

“Our contracts tell us where to drop them off,” Campbell said. “We have problems in Seattle in that they tell us to drop them off somewhere else. We have dropped them off at the bus station and then we have complaints.”

A Seattle television station aired video footage of what was described as Yakima County corrections officers taking three men out of a marked jail van, removing their handcuffs and letting them go in a James Street parking lot April 8.

The lot is a known encampment for homeless people in the city, according to news reports.

The video was sent to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who asked the state Department of Corrections to look into the matter.

Attempts to contact Durkan on Saturday were not successful.

In a letter to Durkan dated April 12, state Department of Corrections Secretary Steve Sinclair said the inmates were parole violators who were incarcerated in Yakima County under a state contract and were being returned after serving their time.

In the past, the inmates would be dropped off at the King County Jail, but Sinclair assured Durkan they would be taken to the Seattle Community Justice Center, a state corrections department facility, going forward.

“We asked Yakima County why this was taking place,” Sinclair wrote to Durkan. “The Yakima County jail reported that dropping off in a parking lot was not standard practice.”

Durkan said in a Friday letter to Sinclair that dropping released inmates off in a parking lot with no supervision was concerning.

“Best practices around re-entry require an individualized transition plan that prescribes a warm handoff from the institution to the individual’s family and community and appropriate services,” Durkan wrote. “Individuals should not simply be dropped on a street in Seattle, whether by the courthouse or under the freeway.”

Campbell said King County is one of 20 entities that contract with Yakima County for jail space, and the only one where his staff has problems returning inmates after they have served their time.

“The state wants us to get them to the bus station because they have tickets bought for them. We take them to the bus station, and we get complaints about them being dropped off,” Campbell said. He said they’ve gone to other locations where the released inmates can walk to the bus station, but receive complaints about those areas as well.

State corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the state has asked Yakima County for additional details on the problems it was having with drop-off sites, and to ensure that they are resolved.

He said the move to dropping off former inmates at the justice center addresses both the state’s and the city’s concerns about services for the recently released inmates.

During transports, the released inmates are handcuffed as part of safety procedures, Campbell said.

Just letting them go in Yakima County is not an option, as city and county officials have asked that out-of-area inmates not be released directly from the North Front Street jail, Campbell said.

“It is our desire to be good partners with our contract agencies and all communities across the state of Washington,” Campbell said.

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