Blue County Jails Still Using COVID-19 Protocols To Reduce Inmate Population

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The King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DJAD) are operating their jails under COVID-19 protocols to reduce the number of inmates booked in their facilities, according to a spokesperson for the department.

King County is experiencing a severe manpower shortage in its jails, a DJAD spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. Jails in the county are only booking suspects arrested for allegedly committing felonies or serious misdemeanors, while other suspects of criminal activity are not jailed, Jason Rantz, a local radio host, first reported.

“King County jails still have the booking restrictions initially put in place early in the COVID-19 pandemic to lower the average daily population in our facilities,” the spokesperson said. “These restrictions are still necessary to help safely manage operations with current staffing resources.”

The practice of only jailing the most dangerous suspects was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce transmission of the virus.

A DJAD spokesperson confirmed the the DCNF that the current protocols are not in place due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the county, but rather to account for staffing shortages. (RELATED: Feds Have Showered Blue State With Tax Dollars To Fix Homelessness. It Keeps Getting Worse.)

While not all misdemeanor suspects who otherwise would be sent to jail are currently being booked in King County, those charged with assault, firearm-related offenses, stalking, violating restraining orders, stalking, drunk driving or communicating with a minor are booked, according to the DJAD spokesperson.

Many common crimes are not covered by these protocols.

“If I go to the grocery store and load up $700 worth of groceries or liquor in my shopping cart and walk out the door, I’m not going to jail,” King County Corrections Guild President Dennis Folk told the DCNF. “These guys are going out and committing these crimes all over the community.”

Though these conditions exclude many crimes, arresting officers “can request public safety exemptions to book someone whose charges may not otherwise qualify under the current restrictions,” the spokesperson said. Other people who are arrested but not booked are given a notice to appear in court, though it’s not clear how that notice is enforced.

Folk, however, says that suspects often ignore these notices and will destroy monitoring devices attached to them by authorities.

With staffing vacancies persisting, it is unknown how long jails in the Seattle area will be operating under pandemic-era booking policies.

“Despite robust recruitment efforts, we continue to have more than 100 vacancies out of 500 budgeted corrections officer positions,” the spokesperson said.

DJAD hired 77 new correctional officers in 2023, which a spokesperson for the agency called “unprecedented.” Many of these new officers aren’t sticking around, however, according to the union that represents them.

“So, we’ve got a huge retention problem that’s happening,” Folk told a local radio station. “People are coming in, they’re realizing the conditions in the jail, they don’t want to work for King County. We’re in active bargaining on alternative shifts right now” he continued.

The staffing shortage has made work hazardous for corrections officers, Folk told the DCNF. Dangerous inmates are being moved to lower security conditions at the direction of the county, leading to at least one officer being injured, according to Folk.

Folk told the DCNF that a lot of the staffing difficulties in King County can be traced to the defund the police movement.

“Communities are screaming, ‘hey, crime’s out of control, we need to do something’ but because of the defund movement, nobody wants to work this job anymore,” he continued.

King County, which the Census Bureau estimates had a population of 2.2 million as of July 2023, had an average daily population of just over 1,600 in its jails in 2024, per to county data.

Crime spiked in Seattle during COVID-19 and amid the accompanying jails protocols. Homicide, for instance, increased by 47% during the first year of the pandemic, according to The Seattle Times.

The King County executive’s office did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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