Jail to limit number of inmates with medical issues

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Jail is cracking down — again — on who it will accept into lockup.

It also is getting new leadership.

Changes in booking procedures are aimed at limiting the number of inmates booked into the medical housing, observation and acute psychiatric units.

In a memo sent Tuesday to area cities and counties, Sheriff Ty Trenary said the jail in Everett has been experiencing a significant increase in inmates with medical and mental issues “that has stressed both staff capacity and housing capacity.”

Under new restrictions, the jail will not accept people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors if they have medical or acute psychiatric needs that require they be kept in special housing areas. The jail’s specialty housing units will be restricted to the maximum allowable bed space, meaning no “double bunking” of inmates will be allowed, officials said.

Ten inmates — many with medical issues — have died in the jail since 2010. The latest death occurred earlier this month; another, in January. Several inmates who died were known to have a history of drug and alcohol abuse or had withdrawal symptoms.

Two deaths have resulted in high-profile damage claims. In April, the estate of Lyndsey Lason reached a $1.3 million settlement with the county after she slowly died of a lung infection in 2011. She was 27.

A lawsuit filed by the mother of Michael Saffioti alleges jail staff failed to act when he began to suffer an apparent allergic reaction after eating breakfast in July 2012. He was 22.

The spate of deaths led the county last year to ask for a federal review of jail operations. Since then, county officials have been trying to improve medical care, including hiring a doctor, increasing nursing staff, medical screening during booking and reducing the jail’s average inmate population. On Thursday morning, the jail housed 1,081 inmates.

Despite the lower daily census, the jail continues to face large numbers of inmates with medical and mental health issues.

“We find ourselves over capacity in our special needs areas even when overall population is within desired levels,” Trenary wrote.

On Thursday, the medical unit housed 33 inmates. It is built for 24.

The observation unit built for 10 inmates housed 12.

The psychiatric unit was at its capacity of 17.

The new restrictions will remain in place until the jail has the resources to manage the needs of the inmate population and keep inmates and staff safe, Trenary said.

The jail also is getting new leadership.

Rob Beidler, the sheriff’s office bureau chief of administration, will take over jail operations. He’ll be assisted by Maj. Tony Aston, a patrol watch commander.

Beidler will replace bureau chief Jeff Miller, who will move to patrol.

The changes take effect Monday.

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

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