According to a memo obtained by the Herald Net, Sheriff Adam Fortney stated that it would be once again up to officers, troopers, and deputies to decide whether or not to book an arrestee into the Snohomish County Jail. The decision is a reversal of previous booking restrictions that were enacted to decrease the number of inmates housed at the facility in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. With discretion left to officers, it's likely the jail will see an increase in its population, placing the health and safety of inmates and employees at risk of contracting the disease.
A Matter of Public Safety
In his memo, Fortney stated that the decision to lift booking restrictions was not made lightly. He said that the initial mandate was enacted at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as a way to prepare for the "worse possible outcome." By limiting the number of bookings, the Snohomish County Jail population could be kept low, allowing individual inmates to be housed in single cells.
Fortney said that now that the spread of COVID-19 has slowed, and business is gradually returning to normal, the Snohomish County Jail can start operating as it did previously, with some modifications.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the jail held about 950 inmates. After the booking restrictions were put in place, that number dropped to just under 300, marking a nearly 70% decrease.
Fortney said that with the current jail population so low, the facility has about 600 available cells where each inmate could have their own. Additionally, the jail has the resources to adhere to safety guidelines issued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, Fortney stated, the Snohomish County Jail can and has "exceeded recommendations" from the health agency. Because of this, the department can once again focus on its goal of protecting public safety by keeping those accused of crimes off the streets.
What About the Safety of Inmates?
Sheriff's Fortney’s decision to lift booking restrictions is not without controversy. Even though the Snohomish County Jail might be able to house inmates in single-occupancy cells, their safety is still at risk.
Many people booked into jails and prisons arrive with existing medical conditions, such as severe asthma, that might put them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Interactions with others who may be carrying the disease is still possible. In Snohomish County Jail, 2 employees and 5 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Just one person has the potential to start a mass outbreak within the facility. Snohomish County Corrections Bureau Chief Jamie Kane said that if an increased jail population starts to put others at risk, they will assess the situation to determine whether or not to restore the booking restrictions.
What About Those Awaiting Trial?
Many people being held in jail are those awaiting trial for an alleged offense. That means innocent people are sitting behind bars. And with the State Supreme Court recently issuing an order extending the suspension of all non-essential court proceedings until July 6, 2020, these individuals could be locked up for nearly two months without having been proven guilty.
The Snohomish County Prosecutor's office will still be adhering to its temporary guidelines for releasing defendants, which means some wouldn't have to spend more than a few days in jail.
According to the Herald Net, Prosecutor Adam Cornell said that the office would not hold defendants:
- Booked for non-violent and non-sexual offenses
- Who may be susceptible to contracting COVID-19
- Charged with misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors (except DUI or domestic violence offenses)
- Charged with simple possession
- Who could do an alternative justice program
At DUIHeroes, our Lynnwood attorney fights hard to protect the rights of the accused. If you or a loved one has been arrested and jailed for a DUI offense, contact us at (425) 296-9358 to discuss your legal options.