Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday that the state needs to improve alarm systems, add staff, and reduce overcrowding in prisons to avoid more incidents like the death of corrections officer Jayme Biendl at the Monroe Correctional Complex in January.
The recommendations, which the state Corrections Department said it would begin to implement soon, were released as part of a report reviewing Biendl’s death by the National Institute of Corrections.
“Jayme’s legacy will be enhanced protection of her co-workers, who face inherent dangers while on the job,” said Gregoire in a press release announcing the prison-system action plan.
Biendl, a 34-year-old officer, was strangled to death at Monroe Correctional Complex Jan. 29. An inmate named Byron Scherf has been accused of killing her.
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The national institution report included 15 recommendations to prevent violence against officers in the future, including giving prison staff pepper spray, adding security cameras and increasing training for workers.
Bernie Warner, the director of prisons for the Corrections Department, said the department planned to pursue all of the recommendations. But he cautioned that they would probably be implemented on different timelines.
He said the report was a useful source of information for the department, but it was too early to say exactly what changes might look like.
“Any time you get national experts to come in and review your operations it’s helpful,” Warner said.
Corrections Department Spokesman Chad Lewis said the department plans to follow up the report with an internal review of the circumstances that led to Biendl’s death by administrators from other prisons in Washington.
Overall, Lewis said, violence had been going down in Washington prisons recently, with the number of violent infractions at the Monroe Correctional Complex decreasing 30 percent in the last two years.
He said much of the reason for the decline was efforts by the department to prevent gang violence in prisons.
According to Government Management Accountability and Performance data, violent infractions in the entire Washington state prison system decreased about 20 percent between 2007 and 2011.