Settlement Reached in Class Action Case Involving Detainee Abuse at Franklin County Correctional Center

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A settlement has been reached in a federal class action lawsuit brought by detainees at the Franklin County Correctional Center (Jail) against Franklin County and the Jail’s administrators. The Franklin County Correctional Center is a county jail located in Pasco that houses roughly 185 people nightly who are either charged with crimes and awaiting trial or sitting out criminal sentences for low level offenses.

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The Plaintiffs brought suit in July 2014 following an investigation that revealed that detainees were being abused on a regular basis. The Complaint alleges that suicidal people and people with severe mental illness were regularly chained to a fence in the Jail booking area and left there for days on end on mats on the floor. All detainees regardless of behavior were locked in their cells for 23 hours every day and were rarely allowed outside. Medical and mental health care were inadequate or non-existent and the Jail failed to follow basic procedures designed to protect the health and safety of the people under its charge.

Correctional officers lacked basic training on how to work with people with mental illness or those withdrawing from drugs or alcohol. With few alternative ways to manage the Jail, staff relied upon chemical spray and metal shackles to try and control detainees. One Jail practice involved chaining people by their hands and feet to walls and stretching them out on a concrete pad in one of the holding cells.

Plaintiffs maintained that many of the failings were the direct result of the County’s long-term failure to provide the Jail with sufficient financial and staff resources. As a result, the Jail was severely short-staffed and over-strained, leading poorly trained correctional officers to react in inappropriate and dangerous ways.

In January 2015, a new administration took over operations of the Jail following Sheriff Jim Raymond’s election in November 2014. Under his direction, the new administration has begun to implement changes at the Jail. However, four correctional experts have recently toured the Jail and reviewed documents as part of the litigation and all of them, including one expert hired by the Jail, agree that while conditions have improved under the new administration, serious problems remain. The settlement that has been reached addresses the issues that led to the filing of the case and aims to resolve the on-going problems at the Jail.

Disability Rights Washington and Columbia Legal Services represent the detainees in the suit. “We believe that this settlement is an appropriate response to the many issues confronting the Jail, its administration and staff. We are encouraged that the Jail and the County have recognized the need for significant changes and reforms,” said Nick Straley, an attorney with the Institutions Project of Columbia Legal Services and one of the attorneys for the detainees. “We look forward to working with the Jail to ensure that the promise this settlement represents is realized in real changes on the ground.”

Under the settlement, the Jail has agreed to hire 11 additional staff over the next two years; enter into a new contract for medical and mental health services with a local health care network; make repairs and renovations at the Jail; create a range of policies and procedures that are currently not in place; and ensure that staff are properly trained and supervised. Attorneys for the detainees hope that the reforms the settlement will put in place will ensure that conditions that may have contributed to the deaths of detainees in the recent past do not reoccur.

An independent monitor will be appointed to review the Jail’s progress and compliance with the settlement agreement for the next three years. The Jail will provide the monitor and the Plaintiffs’ attorneys with quarterly reports and documents regarding the operations of the Jail. The monitor will prepare at least two progress reports to be filed with the Court. The settlement does not require the Jail to admit liability or the truth of the suit’s allegations.

While the agreement has been reached between the parties, Judge Stanley Bastian, the federal judge hearing the case, must approve the settlement and its terms before it becomes final. The parties will be seeking Judge Bastian’s approval in the very near future.