Multiple sources inside the King County Correctional Facility – who asked to remain anonymous -- have offered KIRO 7 a possible explanation for how an inmate at the downtown Seattle jail simply walked out of custody last month.
"The mandatory overtime is causing exhausted officers to make mistakes,” one jail officer wrote in an email.
Within hours of KIRO 7’s Wednesday report on how Joseph Tremato walked out of the King County Jail last month, multiple jail employees sent emails, texts and copies of letters that describe “severely understaffed” conditions at the jail and mandatory overtime at a “crisis level.”
One source claimed, "There is a belief that the overworked staff aided in this escape."
Concerns were also raised in a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine, dated Sept. 7, which was written during the three-week period that Tremato remained at large.
Written by King County Corrections Guild President David Richardson and provided to KIRO 7 by a jail employee, the letter informs Constantine that "mandatory overtime continues to be at crisis levels in our jails."
"If something meaningful isn't done to relieve this situation soon, our workforce is going to start to break," Richardson wrote.
“The high population levels, combined with the very high number of psych inmates, is threatening to overwhelm our systems,” according to the KCCG President.
Mandatory overtime at the jail was the focus of a March 13th meeting of the King County Council's Law and Justice Committee, where administrative staff from the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention explained why there are dozens of jail officer jobs open and funded -- but not filled.
“At the end of the day, it’s a difficult market out there and we’re competing with other organizations,” Chief of Administration Steve Larson told council members.
Larson and other jail administrators said that competition for jail officers comes from the King County Sheriff’s Office, the Seattle Police Department and even Amazon.
"It's a hard job. You really have to want to do it," program manager Jennifer Albright said.
And the mandatory OT could get much worse, because KIRO 7 has learned that King County is currently exploring the idea of housing the homeless at the downtown Seattle jail.
On Friday, Constantine's office confirmed, “The West Wing of the jail is a former minimum security unit currently not used for detention. We are in the early stages of researching logistics and won't have any decisions about if/when it could be transformed into shelter for some time."
In his letter to Constantine, Richardson addressed the idea of using the West Wing for “non-corrections purposes” calling it “a serious mistake.”
“We need more space in our facilities for our inmates,” Richardson wrote.
“We think you should authorize the repairs to the West Wing so we can put inmates back in those housing areas.”
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