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Corrections officers pushing back on proposed plan to close downtown Seattle jail

The King County Corrections Guild sent a letter to Executive Dow Constantine opposing closing the jail without a proposed new corrections facility in the works.

SEATTLE — This week, King County Executive Dow Constantine laid out his proposed plans for the year in his annual “state of the county” address. Some of the issues he plans to tackle include addressing homelessness and increasing mental health resources.

Executive Constantine also wants to redevelop seven blocks of downtown Seattle as part of the proposed civic campus initiative. The proposal could develop some properties into commercial or residential buildings and give the closed administration building to Sound Transit. The proposal also means the downtown Seattle jail could close.

Constantine called the 1980’s jail “obsolete.”

Those who work inside the jail have concerns. The King County Corrections Guild President, Dennis Folk sent Executive Constantine a letter against closing the jail without a replacement in the works.

Folk said the proposal comes at a time when communities are facing record-level crime rates and jails facing a staffing crisis.

“We need to have a place where we can house people that commit crimes against society and to arbitrarily shut down the jail without a plan to replace it, we're against that,” Folk said.

King County Executive Office Spokesperson Chase Gallagher said in a statement, “Eventually the downtown jail will need to be replaced with something else – a place or places that meet the county's mandate under state law but can also offer the behavioral health care and interventions that stop the revolving door and turn lives around. It’s a complex undertaking, and will require the whole of this community to work together to find the right solution.”

Issues have plagued the jail, the ACLU recently filed a lawsuit over its conditions and protestors demonstrated last week after six people in the correctional facility’s custody died in 2022.

Folk acknowledges those problems in his letter and said the facility is outdated and poses a safety risk for both inmates and staff. The letter said the jail is overcrowded and lacks the necessary resources to provide adequate care and rehabilitation services to inmates.

“The downtown facility was built decades ago and that model of corrections is an archaic model of corrections,” Folk said.

He is asking Constantine for the county to invest in a new state-of-the-art facility with resources and help reduce recidivism. Folk pointed to the facility in Kent as a more modern jail.

“The downtown jail is basically putting somebody behind the door and just keeping them there. They don't have access to those types of programs that they do down here,” said Folk.

Folk is asking taxpayers to hold leaders accountable. 

“We have to keep these communities safe. Judges and a policy dictate who comes to jail, and we support programs and other things that the courts may want to try, but we need to hold people accountable.”

Folk said it will be hard for other jails to take on more inmates as they face a staffing crisis.

Folk said they need to fill 111 positions. He said the county is making progress on the staffing issue with more hires made last month and 19 new corrections officers to start this month.

King County does offer hiring bonuses up to $15,000 depending on experience level.

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