Big changes under way at Monroe prison

From: Seattle Times
Nov 4, 2011
By Jennifer Sullivan
Seattle Times staff reporter

At the Monroe Correctional Complex on Thursday, pairs of corrections officers stood by the metal gate leading into the recreation yard, singling out inmates for random pat-downs.

The inmates stripped off their jackets and stood in the chilly November sunshine answering questions about what was in their pockets and their plans for the day.

While some inmates appeared annoyed with the checks, others shrugged and said this was only one form of tightened security they’ve seen since Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl was killed at the Washington State Reformatory, a part of the Monroe prison complex, earlier this year.

In the weeks after Biendl’s death, allegedly at the hands of an inmate, prison staff across the state talked about the changes necessary to help them feel safer. Panic call buttons, pepper spray and tracking devices were added to many officers’ tool belts, all changes supported by Gov. Chris Gregoire and the National Institute of Corrections.

But the greatest change has been in officers’ attitudes, several longtime staffers at the Monroe prison said.

“Staff were complacent,” said Lt. Jack Warner, who supervises 70 officers on the day shift. “They had to look in the mirror.”

Warner said he thinks about Biendl’s death every day and wonders what could have been done differently to save her. He was off work the day she was killed.

“I hate to say that it took an event like this to make changes, but maybe it did,” Warner said, adding that officers now regularly discuss security and are quicker to react to potential problems.

Biendl, 34, who was strangled with an amplifier cord on Jan. 29, was the first Department of Corrections (DOC) officer killed in a state prison in 32 years.

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