SCORE – Our Reporter ‘Does Time’ Inside South King County’s New Jail

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: Ralph Nichols was one of the first persons to “do time” in SCORE – South King County’s new correctional facility, located in Des Moines, for miscreants charged with or serving time for misdemeanors.]

by Ralph Nichols

A few days before the official grand opening of SCORE – South Correctional Entity Multijurisdictional Misdemeanant Jail – I was ushered into this $52 million facility.

I wasn’t there as an inmate, nothing that eye raising, but as a reporter for a look around the inside before it started receiving those on the wrong side of the law.

SCORE is the result of King County’s notice to suburban cities a few years ago that, by 2012, they would need their own jail facilities because county jails could then no longer accept their inmates accused or convicted of misdemeanor crimes.

Reacting to that announcement, Burien, Des Moines, Tukwila, SeaTac, Renton, Auburn and Federal Way joined together to build a new jail. Six of the cities forged a financing package. Des Moines is the host city.

The 16 acres on which SCORE is built is land donated by the Port of Seattle just south of Sea-Tac International Airport.

“We made it happen!” Des Moines Mayor Bob Sheckler, vice chairman of the SCORE Board of Directors, declared at the outset of this tour.

The 164,000 square foot facility has a capacity for housing 813 inmates, which will allow for increased demand for jail space in the future. Currently SCORE’s member cities have about 400 misdemeanor inmates scattered in jails around the state.

Des Moines Mayor Bob Sheckler at the opening dedication of SCORE. In the background is Jail Director Penny Bartley.

There are 29 inmate beds dedicated for medical housing. Most inmate health problems are related to drugs and alcohol, SCORE Director Penny Bartley noted.

SCORE has almost 150 full-time-equivalent staff positions, including correctional officers and food and medical services – which include 24-hour care.

Member cities will fund SCORE operations with payments totaling approximately $11million annually, which is “cheaper, a considerable savings,” than what the cities collectively were paying contract cities for jail services, Sheckler said.

SCORE, added Sheckler, “is really high tech … it is state of the art” with steel cells and unique construction and building materials. Although under an airport flight path, the facility is soundproofed so on the inside planes can’t be heard flying overhead.

Bartley said about 60 percent of SCORE inmates will be there as pre-trial holds. About 72 percent will be there for two weeks, which is the average stay. Most will be charged with driving under the influence, fourth-degree assault, and driving without a license.

A unique efficiency in this jail is video arraignment capabilities to reduce the number of inmates transported to municipal and district courts. Judges will be in their courtrooms, while defendants, their attorneys, and translators if required will appear before them on SCORE’s video facilities.

Visitors except attorneys will talk with inmates on a separate video hookup outside the cellblocks.

SCORE is divided into two large housing units that hold 400 inmates each. Those units, in turn, are divided into eight sections each with single, double and some four-bunk cells. The capacity of these pods varies from 22-70 inmates.

Female inmates are housed separately. Even if just one woman is in custody at SCORE, she will be segregated from the male population in a separate cell pod.

Inmate security classification on intake at the jail is based on their criminal history, the charge(s) against them, and their behavior,” Bartley continued.

“If you can’t play nice with others, you’ll be kept in a single cell 23 hours a day,” with dietary balanced “blended” meals brought to the cell.

“It’s like pre-school,” she said. “We go back to teach people who never learned the things other people did. For example, if you don’t make your bed, you don’t get breakfast. And it’s a privilege to get a sheet,” which is a suicide hazard for some inmates.

Inmates are allowed outdoor recreation three hours a week, and have access to some television, some magazines, and board games, but checkers is played only with clear pieces for security.

Phone privileges, except those from inmates’ attorneys, are based on an inmate’s security status. Only collect calls are allowed for outgoing calls.

The new jail also has space for programs to help inmates prepare for re-entry into society and plan for community transition.

Sheckler said inmates will not be released in Des Moines except for those sentenced there. The others will be returned to the member cities where they were sentenced for release.

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