Expert advice for prisons

  • By Rikki King and Eric Stevick
  • Monday, March 21, 2011 8:51am
  • Local News

MONROE — Corrections officers in Washington prisons should be issued special body alarms that will alert others when they are in distress, and some should start carrying pepper spray when working around inmates, a team of federal experts is recommending.

Those suggestions were detailed Monday morning in a report released by the National Institute of Corrections.

“It’s time to get to work,” Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire requested the federal investigation after the Jan. 29 death of Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl.

The federal corrections experts said that a higher ratio of staff-to-inmates is needed in an old prison like the Washington State Reformatory because there are too many places where it is hard to keep close watch and maintain officer safety. At the same time, the team found the ratio of staff to inmates “a very adequate, if not very good, custody staffing,” the report said.

The team also recommended the department institute mandatory annual training that will help officers stay focused on the tactics and mindset that they need to increase safety. Changes also were suggested in how the prison system deploys and accounts for prison staff and volunteers.

The investigation’s results were made public at a mid morning press conference Monday at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

Gregoire asked the National Institute of Corrections to recommend changes in how the prison operates, based on a review of the circumstances surrounding Biendl’s death. The federal corrections experts all are employed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Biendl was slain while she worked alone at her post in the chapel at the reformatory. Byron Scherf, a rapist serving a life term, has been charged with aggravated murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The federal experts encouraged prison officials to review the records of all offenders serving life in prison without possibility of release. Scherf’s records show that prison officials a decade ago determined that he would pose a particular risk to women working at the prison, and should always be considered dangerous.

The federal team was expected to examine policies and procedures at the prison, staffing levels and the classification system used to determine the level of custody for inmates.

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