The Risk Increases

By Timothy Pauley

A significant development in the COVID crisis came when some county jails began refusing to accept violators. These are prisoners who have to serve a period of supervision upon release. Washington has a system where these people must violate the conditions of their community custody multiple times before they are actually returned to incarceration. Typically violators are those who are either unwilling or unable to walk past the dope house if they have money in their pockets.

In response to this, the reformatory administration cleaned up a small unused cell block that had been empty for many years. They converted it into a violator unit.

The day violators began occupying those cells, the risk level at the reformatory increased significantly. Prior to that time, the only way COVID-19 could enter the facility was through staff members. Now they were essentially wrangling guys directly from the dope house and bringing them here.

If that weren’t bad enough, a short time later, they began converting one of the education buildings into a 45 man hospital facility for prisoners who had tested positive. When I was tasked with disinfecting the former GED classrooms, I was shocked to find every vestige of education had been removed already. As I was leaving, maintenance was installing a shower in the bathroom.

The troubling aspect of both these developments is cross contamination. These venues are within the secure perimeter (which is actually a 20 foot high brick wall) of the reformatory. Most of us believe the violators to be amongst the least health conscious people on the planet. If there’s COVID-19 at the dope house (a place where social distancing is almost certainly nonexistent) they will bring it here with them when they come. Even if they don’t, the 45 man dorm is intended specifically for that purpose.

To be fair, the violators are sequestered in their unit. Whenever they must move one across the compound, they make sure none of the prisoners from the rest of the facility have any direct contact with them. That will certainly be the case with the 45 man dorm as well. The true threat lies in security.

Both these areas require guards. Guards who walk the same hallway to get in, report to the same shift office, and are eligible for the same overtime opportunities in our living units. So someone working one of these areas can work a double shift and go directly from the sick bay to handing me my mail. I will never even know until, through the contact tracing protocol, I am informed that I’ve been exposed. That is only IF they follow that protocol. Big if.

To say this whole set up does not inspire confidence in our safety would be significantly understating the case. It remains to be seen how this will look when the 45 man dorm actually goes on line. To assume that operation will somehow be more efficient than the current one is would be delusional. My 40 years of experience in these places gives me sufficient cause to believe that, if anything, it will be worse.