A look inside the Snohomish County Jail

Two Herald police reporters toured the Snohomish County Jail on Tuesday in anticipation of a federal review planned there later this year.

At least seven inmates have died at the jail since 2010. At least two of those deaths involve pending legal claims, and one internal investigation just wrapped up. County officials are particularly interested in whether medical care at the jail measures up.

Our tour guide was corrections Capt. Harry Parker, a former Alfy’s restaurant manager who’s been working at the jail since 2000.

The jail was about what you’d expect: antiseptic tunnels, people with neck tattoos staring from behind plated glass, and the smells of cleaning solutions doing their best to mask whatever the solutions have been used to disinfect.

The black round eyes of surveillance cameras are mounted to the walls and ceilings, hundreds of them. Doors slam, and the sounds of the slams echo.

Enough of that. Here’s some of what we learned from Parker:

  • Inmates’ outfits are color-coded. Most wear the green stripes. High-security inmates wear orange. Inmate workers wear red.
  • The jail houses about 1,100 inmates daily, maybe 1,250 if you count work release. About 400 inmates are there under contracts with surrounding cities and counties. Maybe a tenth of the inmates are women.
  • TVs are only in common areas. No TVs in individual cells.
  • Inmates get caught trying to bring in drugs at least every week, if not every day.
  • About 80 percent of inmates are in general population.
  • Jail staff anticipates changes within about a year to address mandates from the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. The jail already has policies guiding the confinement of people who identify as transgendered.
  • Inmates in high-security placements have their classifications reviewed every week. Each module, including administrative segregation and maximum security, has “outdoor recreation” areas. They’re pretty much concrete rooms with one wall partially made of metal grates, but they do have access to the fresh Everett air.

The federal review is supposed to be completed before the end of summer. We’ll be reporting on the results as they’re made available.

Our tour lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. As we walked into an outdoor vehicle bay on our way back to the reception room, even still surrounded by concrete and razor-wire but with blue sky above, I couldn’t help but take a deep breath.

It was good to be outside again.

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