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Officials provide update on COVID-19 related prison disruption

In a press conference this afternoon, Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Steve Sinclair and Governor Jay Inslee addressed the disruption which took place at the Monroe Correctional Complex last night. 

The disruption took place after about 50 inmates broke unit-wide quarantines and entered the facility recreation yard.

The inmates set off fire extinguishers within two housing units in the Minimum Security Unit, which provided an appearance of smoke from the exterior. 

DOC confirmed in a press release that it used pepper spray, sting balls, and rubber pellets to end the disruption. According to DOC, the facility’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) gave verbal directives to stop and the directives were obeyed by over half the men participating in the demonstration.

After a group of men ignored the directives, the ERT team used the aforementioned methods to bring the inmates “into compliance.” 

The demonstration is believed to be in response to recent positive test results of COVID-19 among six men within the Minimum Security Unit.

There have been no reported injuries to staff or incarcerated men. Both housing units involved in the demonstration were fully evacuated and the entire facility has been placed under restricted movement.

The first COVID-19 case within the facility was confirmed last Sunday. After an individual tested positive, Sinclair said DOC initiated contact mapping to identify people the individual may have come into contact with. 

As a result of the contact mapping, six additional individuals were moved into isolation so they could be tested. Results came back the next day confirming they were all COVID-19 positive. 

According to Sinclar, DOC has implemented active screening for all individuals who come into correctional facilities. The department has also halted all visitations to limit the number of people who come into correctional facilities and work release facilities. 

The protocol for testing individuals who display symptoms is to remove them from the general prison population and place them in isolation pending the return of test results. While Sinclair said DOC has taken steps to move vulnerable individuals – as defined by the CDC guidelines – into isolation, these efforts were met with resistance from some inmates.

Sinclclair said that the resistance to moving on the part of inmates has largely been due to inmates not wanting to give up certain privileges in their current living arrangements, such as access to television.

Sounding off on the tension within the facility, the Governor pointed to a sentiment among inmates of not wanting to be separated from each other . 

Some of the social networks in these institutions, there’s a compadre viewpoint. Steve has relayed to me that some of these folks have said they want to stick with the team and the team wants to demonstrate disenchantment at the moment,” said Inslee. “But this is really important for the safety of these individuals. We are making provisions for them and we’re really hopeful that when cooler heads prevail, they will avail themselves of this offer to go into a safer situation.”

To clear up space for more isolation units, Both Sinclar and Inslee confirmed that they are developing a plan to potentially release low-level offenders who are within 60 days of their originally designated release date. 

Inslee said the release plan must involve a process where formerly incarcerated individuals can receive services, such as job placement or addiction counseling, to help them avoid re-offending. The Governor said there will be further discussions taking place over the next few days on the matter.

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