Upgrade planned at prison chapel where officer was killed

MONROE — The Washington State Reformatory chapel could open by summer for the first time since corrections officer Jayme Biendl was strangled at the Monroe prison in January 2011.

Between now and then, work is planned to improve safety in the building, which is officially known as the prison’s religious activities center.

The work will include up to $25,000 in additional security cameras, Monroe Correctional Complex Superintendent Scott Frakes said.

“The most important security upgrade is going to be a significantly enhanced camera system,” Frakes said. “We want to make sure we have 100 percent video coverage of the sanctuary area.”

Video coverage in the chapel has been an issue since Biendl’s death. In dispute is whether she earlier had filled out a work order asking for more cameras in the chapel. The state Department of Corrections said it has no such record; a sergeant at the prison said in sworn statement that he signed the paperwork for Biendl’s request and placed it in the box of a supervisor.

Byron Scherf, 53, a repeat rapist who was serving a life term, has been charged with aggravated murder in Biendl’s death. He could face the death penalty.

The chapel was built more than four decades ago using community donations. Religious services are conducted mostly by volunteers. Community groups donate supplies and resources.

Improvements to the building will be made over the next few months.

The upgrade project, which is expected to cost about $50,000, will include brighter paint and lighting as well as new carpet and flooring.

“We are looking for every option we can to increase the brightness of the space and we are removing some little barriers, such as unnecessary furniture,” Frakes said. “We want it as open as we can.”

Money for the work comes from two sources.

Routine building maintenance and repairs are made through state Department of Corrections funding.

New construction and remodeling is paid through an Offender Betterment Fund. That’s money from inmates and their families. It comes largely through the collect-call telephone system and fees for such things as cable TV.

Frakes said there are no plans to dedicate the chapel in Biendl’s memory.

“In my view of the world, it is better to have some other kind of memorial that is more publicly accessible,” he said.

Outside of the reformatory is a remembrance garden with an engraved stone in her honor, he said.

“That is in my mind the correct place and the right place,” Frakes said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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