Washington Department of Corrections - Changes to Protocols Due to COVID 19

Dec 23, 2020

Washington State has re-implemented restrictions due to increasing cases of COVID-19 (JIC, 2020). The Department of Health (DOH) maintains a dashboard for health data which shows increasing cases of COVID-19 (WDOH, 2020). The Governor’s Office maintains a dashboard for Risk Assessment that identifies goals such as number of available hospital and urgent care beds, which shows that the state is not meeting goals although some of the counties are and have progressed to new phases of opening (Office of the Governor, 2020).

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) suspended in-person visitation on March 12, 2020 to control the spread of COVID-19 in the jail system (Miller & Cole, 2020). While they expected to resume in-person visitation in October 2020, they are still in Phase 1 that only allows for video visitation (Miller & Cole, 2020). They have expanded video visits and phone calls opportunities and are encouraging writing to inmates. Inmates are encouraged to take up yoga to help with physical and mental well-being, including the IDOC providing information to inmates.

County Jails

The following counties were selected based on population and/or position in the state.

King County has two jail facilities with one located in downtown Seattle and the other in Kent (King County, 2020). King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered a reduction on March 24, 2020 in the number of people in custody as part of the County’s COVID-19 response (King County News, 2020; King County, 2020). The intent is to have allow all inmates to bunk individually. No contact visitation is allowed at either facility. As the onsite video visitation can be closed periodically, the County is recommending offsite video visitation.

Spokane County located in the eastern portion of the state and includes the City of Spokane as well as several large college campuses and military installations. It is adjacent Idaho and the Cities of Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene. In-person visitation was suspended but professional visitors are still permitted to enter the jail (SCDS, 2020). Some group programs have resumed with reduced class size, social distancing, and face mask requirements. They have increased screening and sanitation practices. The courts and prosecutors have worked to draw down the jail population. The inmate handbook is not readily available to the public but is available to inmates while in jail.

Yakima County is located in the center of the state and includes the City of Yakima, military installations, and the Yakama Indian Reservation. The Yakima County Department of Corrections (YCDOC) suspended in person visits but has not updated their website (YCDOC, 2020; Meyers, 2020). According to newspaper articles, inmates are allowed two free calls per week (Meyers, 2020).

Type of FacilityFamily VisitationAttorney VisitationCommissary/Money for ExpensesOther Programs
General InformationHours and Parking for VisitationInmate Property Release
State-Run Correction Facility
  • Suspended in person visitation on March 13, 2020.
  • Video and phone visitation allowed
  • Visiting hours vary by the facility.
  • Video visitation is allowed daily for up to 1 hour with a rolling schedule based on living unit.
  • When in person is allowed, visiting hours are generally on Friday through Monday.
  • Inmates may take their personal items with them or request they be shipped at their own expense within 90 days of release.
  • Professional visitors including attorneys coordinate directly with the jail to visit inmates.
  • DOC is providing special options during COVID isolation.
  • Rehabilitation and industries programs
King County
  • In person contact visitation is suspended. Juvenile inmates can have no contact visits.
  • Onsite video visitation has been allowed but times and reservations can be cancelled without notice.
  • Offsite video visitation is encouraged.
  • Video visitation is by reservation.
No specific information providedVideo visitation is required and will not be recorded if selected as an “attorney” visit.
  • No specific information provided
While volunteer-based programs are likely suspended, personal wellness, education, and reentry programs are usually available.
Spokane County
  • In person suspended.
  • Inmates may send two letters free of charge and have one 5-minute phone call per week.
  • The jail is switching to a new provider and do not have phone visitation hours available.
  • Inmates must release property for someone to pick up for them.
  • Property is not released on Mondays or Fridays.
In person permitted with health screening and use of face mask.
  • The jail is switching to a new provider so information is limited.
  • Commissary purchases will be held for 3 days if an inmate is transferred out or released.
The jail has partnered with community programs however these are currently suspended.
Yakima County
  • No COVID related changes are noted on their website. However, newspaper articles indicate that in person visitation is suspended and that two free 15-minute phone calls per week are allowed.
  • Collect or prepaid phone calls. Days of week and time are not defined.
  • No specific information provided
  • No specific information provided
  • Trust accounts can be used for care packages and commissary expenses via kiosk, online, or by phone.
  • No specific information provided.

Infection Rates and Death Rates

Washington State had the first official death due to COVID-19 but it was likely present in the state several months prior to that official case based on forensic review of medical reports. The state had a positivity rate of 15.1% on November 20, 2020 with a rolling 7-day positivity rate of 9.9% (WDOH, 2020). Due to increases in testing and inability to fully verify results, Washington State laboratories have not been publicly reporting results for nearly 15 days. During this time, all indicators are showing increasing positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the community. This is especially true for the Seattle-Tacoma corridor (Pierce, King, and Snohomish Counties), Clark County (which includes the City of Vancouver and is adjacent to the City of Portland, Oregon), Yakima County, and Spokane County.

Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) provides testing and positive rates for inmates by facility and employees (DOC COVID Dashboard, 2020). The state was one of the first and hardest hit areas for COVID-19 infections. Despite this, DOC has one of the lowest cumulative infection rates in the United States with a current positivity rate of approximately 4%, which is likely due to the actions taken in early February 2020 to identify a potential uncontrolled infection (DOC COVID Dashboard, 2020; DOC Timeline, 2020). According to DOC, the most recent death occurred November 21, 2020 with the previous deaths occurring in June 2020 (Ericson, 2020). Governor Inslee commuted sentences for non-violent offenders on April 15, 2020 (DOC Timeline, 2020).

County Jails

King County community positivity rate has been increasing with 7.6% on November 19, 2020 and the 7-day average holding steady (DOC COVID Dashboard, 2020). To combat community spread of COVID-19, the County implemented temporary restrictions on November 17, 2020 through December 14, 2020 (S-KCPH, 2020; KCDOH, 2020). The jail set up special housing at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent for medically compromised inmates whether they exhibit signs of COVID or not (King County Jail Dashboard, 2020). The County is not charging for video visitation at this time and the juvenile inmates can make free phone calls. Juvenile inmates can have no contact visits.

Spokane County community positivity rate is accelerating in this generally rural county that also includes several large college campuses and the City of Spokane (DOC COVID Dashboard, 2020; SRHD, 2020). The positivity rate on November 20, 2020 was 14.6% with a 7-day rolling average of 16.6%, indicating uncontrolled spread.

Yakima County community positivity rate is showing a potential decline but that may actually be due to fewer tests. The positivity rate on November 20, 2020 was 37.9% with a 7-day day rolling average of 21.4% (DOC COVID Dashboard, 2020; YHD, 2020). Yakima County remains one of the communities with uncontrolled spread but the jail system is not included in specific information releases.

Type of FacilityInfectionDeath
NumberPositivity RateNumberDeath Rate of Positive Cases
State JailsInmate75513.3%130.4%
Employee326Not determined10.3%
King CountyInmate4721.9%None reportedNot determined
Employee333Not determinedNone reportedNot determined
Spokane CountyInmate>2Not determinedNone reportedNot determined
Employee>5Not determinedNone reportedNot determined
Yakima CountyInmateNone reportedNot determinedNone reportedNot determined
EmployeeNone reportedNot determinedNone reportedNot determined


DOC COVID Dashboard. (2020, November 25). COVID-19 Data. Retrieved November 30, 2020 from Washington Department of Corrections: https://www.doc.wa.gov/corrections/covid-19/data.htm#confirmed
DOC Timeline. (2020, November 25). Coronavirus/COVID-19 Plan Significant Events Timeline. Retrieved November 30, 2020 from Washington Department of Corrections: https://www.doc.wa.gov/news/2020/docs/daily-situation-report.pdf
Ericson, R. (2020, November 22). PRESS RELEASE: Third Incarcerated Individual in Washington Dies of COVID-19. Retrieved November 30, 2020 from Washington Department of Corrections: https://www.doc.wa.gov/news/2020/11222020p.htm
JIC. (2020, December 3). Washington State Coronavirus Response (COVID-19). Retrieved December 5, 2020 from Joint Information Center – Coronavirus Washington: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/
KCDOH. (2020, December 2). COVID-19 Key Indicators. Retrieved December 3, 2020 from King County Department of Health: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/key-indicators.aspx
King County. (2020, September 20). King County Adult Detention Facilities. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from KingCounty.gov: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/jails/adult-detention.aspx
King County Jail Dashboard. (2020, December 4). Covid Updates. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from KingCounty.gov: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/jails/covid-updates.aspx
King County News. (2020, April 22). News. Retrieved December 6, 2020 from KingCounty.gov: https://www.kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/constantine/news/release/2020/March/24-jail-population.aspx
Meyers, D. W. (2020, May 24). Yakima County jail, juvenile detention center offering free calls for inmates during pandemic. Retrieved December 5, 2020 from Yakima Herald: https://www.yakimaherald.com/special_projects/coronavirus/yakima-county-jail-juvenile-detention-center-offering-free-calls-for-inmates-during-pandemic/article_e199d10d-ec45-54fd-8bbd-cc6c0f797f97.html
Miller, A., & Cole, R. (2020, November 20). Safe Start Visitation Update. Department of Corrections. From https://www.doc.wa.gov/corrections/covid-19/docs/2020-1120-interested-parties-memo-safe-start-visitation-update.pdf
Office of the Governor. (2020, December 3). Risk Assessment Dashboard. Retrieved December 5, 2020 from Washington State Coronavirus Response (COVID-19): https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/covid-19-risk-assessment-dashboard
SCDS. (2020, December). News & Events. Retrieved December 5, 2020 from Spokane County Detention Services: https://www.spokanecounty.org/4575/Detention-Services
S-KCPH. (2020, November 15). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Resources. Retrieved December 3, 2020 from Seattle-King County Public Health: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19.aspx
SRHD. (2020, December 3). Case Information and Data Visulaizations. Retrieved December 3, 2020 from Spokane Regional Health District: https://covid.srhd.org/topics/spokane-county-case-data

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