Officer Jayme Biendl was murdered by an inmate in the chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex in 2011. Her death spawned a major prison safety initiative in Washington.

A state performance audit released Tuesday concluded that Washington prisons are safer five years after Biendl's murder, but safety gaps still persist that put staff at risk.

Working in a prison is a dangerous job. Inmates outnumber officers and fights are common. Fourteen-year veteran correctional officer Patrick McPherson said over the course of his career he’s been assaulted four or five times.

As Washington’s prison population swells, there are renewed calls for a state prisons ombudsman. Legislation to create the position was filed Wednesday in advance of the January legislative session.

A federal judge in Seattle Thursday ordered the state of Washington to provide mental health evaluations to jail inmates within seven days.

Behind Bars And Far Away

Feb 27, 2015

Fifteen years ago, western Washington cities started sending local inmates to jails in the eastern part of the state, as a remedy for overcrowding and high jail costs. But many people in county jails are defendants still awaiting trial, and the transfers can get in the way of their ability to mount a legal defense. 

In 2005, Alex Hooks faced misdemeanor domestic violence charges in Seattle. Seattle stopped out-of-county transfers for pretrial inmates soon after Hooks challenged the policy, but his experience sheds light on ongoing problems with the practice as it persists today.

Human Cargo: Washington’s Jail Bed Economy

Feb 26, 2015
Rowan Moore Gerety / Northwest Public Radio

Brad Schmidt has been an inmate in the Wapato jail for almost a year. It’s a small place, built in 1909, with the police department upstairs, and the court next door. Schmidt often washes patrol cars parked outside.

As jails go, it can be refreshingly informal, Schmidt says. “When I tell them I need to go out, I just put a coat on and walk out the front door. In Wapato, Schmidt has earned this level of freedom as a trustee.  He says the jail doesn’t have the “big county feel” of jails like Pierce County, where Schmidt, who’s from Tacoma, has been in the past.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The work of rearing threatened plants and animals for restoration to the wild takes time and patience and it is labor intensive. In Oregon and Washington, a growing population doing that work is inmates.

AP Images

Two Washington prison inmates have committed suicide in recent weeks at the state’s main intake facility in Shelton. The first was in October. The most recent was just before Thanksgiving. The Department of Corrections hopes to learn from these deaths.

thierry ehrmann / Flickr

Washington’s Supreme Court may have just made it easier for prison inmates to try to get their convictions overturned through DNA testing. In a 6-to-3 ruling Thursday, the high court said inmates don’t have to show they’re likely innocent in order to win a post-conviction DNA test.

Sam Beebe / Flickr

Fewer prisoners serve their entire prison sentence behind bars in Oregon than in any other state. That's according to a study released Wednesday from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Oregon also supervises its newly released inmates more than any other state.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Jimmy Santiago Baca, From Prison To Poetry

Jan 4, 2014

When Jimmy Santiago Baca was 20, he was convicted of drug charges and sentenced to prison. He was illiterate when he arrived at the Arizona State Prison. When he got out five years later, he was well on his way to becoming one of America's most celebrated poets.

Baca writes about oppression, love and migration, and his poems range from just a few lines to many pages.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

The state auditor says a former superintendent at Washington’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island negotiated a contract that he benefited from after he resigned.

He's best known for starring in hit TV shows like CSI: NY and Covert Affairs, but actor Hill Harper's most significant role may be off the screen.

After writing several advice books, including the best-seller Letters to a Young Brother, Harper began receiving letters from young men in prison. He documents his relationship with one of them in his new book, Letters to an Incarcerated Brother.

He spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin about the prison system and how this friendship changed his life.

When the 2006 secretive military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay began, only one courtroom sketch artist was allowed in. Her name is Janet Hamlin.

The Associated Press sent her there. Since then, Hamlin has created a rare visual record of the human drama unfolding in Guantanamo's courtrooms. Those images are now collected in a book, Sketching Guantanamo.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

If projections are correct, Oregon will need to build fewer prison beds under a new law.

Oregon lawmakers have given the initial approval to a sweeping measure aimed at checking the growth of the state's prison population. The House Thursday passed a bill that reduces some sentences for non-violent crimes. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

Nick Brown

Washington prisons would stay open, but much of the state would not if there’s a government shutdown. Governor Jay Inslee met with his cabinet Wednesday to begin contingency planning if there’s no budget by the end of the month. That’s the start of the new fiscal year. Nick Brown is the Governor’s attorney.

Even if you've never visited a jail, you probably have a pretty clear image of what inmate visitation is like – a shatterproof glass barrier, two people sitting on either side, speaking into telephones.

But that's changing in some parts of the Northwest. More and more county jails are switching to privately operated video conferencing systems. Sort of like Skype, for inmates. But these systems have technical difficulties and come with costs for the inmates’ families.

Delayed visits

SALEM, Ore. – Corrections officers in Oregon say they need the option of being armed while they commute to and from work. Lawmakers are considering a measure to overturn a rule that bans corrections officers from bringing personal guns to the grounds of state prisons.

The 2009 personal gun rule applies to employees and visitors at most state buildings. More than a dozen lawmakers have signed onto a bill that would allow corrections officers to bring their personal weapons with them to work, as long as they leave them in a locked gun box inside their vehicle.

Corrections Workers Rally At Statehouse

Jan 10, 2013

The union that represents prison workers rallied on the Capitol steps in Olympia Thursday. They’re calling for safer working conditions.

Washington Department of Corrections

It’s been nearly two years since Washington corrections officer Jayme Biendl was murdered on the job. But the union that represents prison guards says safety is still a major concern. The Teamsters plan to rally Thursday at the Capitol to demand safer work conditions. They also want the right to call in an arbitrator to resolve bargaining disputes.

Some of Oregon’s voter-approved criminal sentencing laws would get a second look under a series of recommendations approved Monday by a high level commission. It’s part of a package of ideas aimed at slowing the growth of Oregon’s prison population. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

OPB News

Gov. John Kitzhaber says Oregon can save millions of dollars a year by changing the way the state punishes non-violent criminals. The Democrat has included those savings in his next spending plan. But just how the state would save that much money is not yet clear.

Lane County Releases More Jail Inmates Early

Nov 29, 2012
Rachael McDonald / KLCC

Thirty-two inmates walked out of the Lane County Jail Thursday morning without serving their full sentence. The Sheriff has closed more jail beds because of a lack of funding.

Photo Credit: Andrew Bardwell/Wikimedia Commons

The Lincoln County Jail is ending all in-person prisoner visits at the end of January. The county is switching to a pay-per-minute video visitation system that utilizes webcams or Android phones. Officials say the new system will save taxpayer money and give inmates increased opportunities to contact their loved-ones. But an Oregon civil rights group says an all-video system could mean higher recidivism rates.

A tribal court on the Umatilla Indian Reservation is one of the first to hand down a long prison term under new tougher criminal sentencing laws enacted by Congress in 2010.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Thirteen Washington prison inmates who opted to be deported, instead of serving out their sentences, have been re-arrested back in the United States. All but one returned from Mexico. The inmates were part of an early deportation program begun last year to reduce prison costs.

Rachael McDonald / KLCC

Nearly 100 inmates of the Lane County Jail will be released this week. Not because they've served their time, but because the county can't afford to keep them. This after commissioners cut nearly $100 million from the general fund.