By Rikki King Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has asked the federal government to review operations and medical services at the Snohomish County Jail, where at least seven inmates have died since 2010.
Two of the deaths have resulted in pending legal claims against the county alleging that inmates were denied basic medical care.
The review is scheduled this summer, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said Wednesday. It will be done by the National Institute of Corrections, the same division of the U.S. Department of Justice that reviewed operations at the Monroe Correctional Complex after the murder of corrections officer Jayme Biendl in 2011.
The consultants will visit the jail and interview corrections officers, civilian staff and inmates, Ireton said.
Afterward, the sheriff’s office will receive a report with findings and recommendations for change. The report will be made public. The review is paid for by the justice department.
County Executive John Lovick requested the review earlier this year while he was still sheriff. The recommendation came from corrections bureau chief Mark Baird, Ireton said. The recent inmate deaths were a factor in the decision. The justice department agreed to conduct the review a few weeks ago.
The sheriff’s office has made changes since taking over the jail’s operations in 2008, but recognizes the need for additional improvements, Ireton said.
“No death in the jail is acceptable to our staff,” she said. “We have a lot of people and resources and policies and procedures in place to keep that from happening. The challenge we are presented with is a population who may not be in the best of health.”
The report’s findings won’t help the inmates who already have died in the jail, said Everett attorney Royce Ferguson, who represents the family of Lyndsey Elizabeth Lason. Lason, 27, suffocated at the jail in 2011 when her infected lungs slowly filled with fluid. Other inmates said Lason had pleaded for medical care.
The county has acknowledged receipt of the $10 million wrongful death claim but has not otherwise responded, Ferguson said Wednesday. His firm already has hired an outside expert to analyze jail operations as well.
The claim was meant in part to force changes to prevent additional deaths, he said.
“Lyndsey didn’t die from prostitution or from drug use,” Ferguson said. “She died because someone at the jail didn’t do their job.”
Another high-profile death was that of Michael Saffioti, 22.
Saffioti died at the jail in July 2012 from bronchial asthma triggered by severe allergies. His family has hired a Seattle attorney to press for answers. He was in jail for marijuana possession.
The county corrections budget for 2013 is $43.9 million. Of that, $4.3 million is budgeted for medical services. Medication amounts to about $1 million.
There are 337 budgeted corrections staff positions, including roughly 25 medical staff.
The jail’s average daily inmate population is about 1,200.
Ireton on Wednesday outlined some of the concerns the review is expected to address.
One challenge has been hiring and keeping nurses, as evidenced by the post’s frequent inclusion in the county’s job listings.
Qualified nurses are in high demand, and it can be difficult to persuade them to work in corrections, Ireton said.
The review also is expected to include the distribution of medications in the jail, and the use of contracts to house inmates from agencies in neighboring counties, Ireton said.
Medical services at the jail are similar to a community health clinic, Ireton said. Inmates often come in with untreated conditions, including health problems related to years of drug and alcohol abuse. Many suffer from mental health issues or need emergency dental care. Someone never arrested before may be delivered to the jail without their heart medication or blood-pressure pills, Ireton said.
In addition, corrections staff are dealing with people coming down off street drugs, she said. They’re getting inmates to their court hearings and providing services without knowing if an inmate is staying one night or several weeks.
Jails must provide a complex number of services required under federal, state and local laws, Ireton said.
“We see a lot of emergency issues come up because of a lack of care and (lack) of preventative care, and now they’ve finally shown up in a system that has that care,” she said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.