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

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.

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.