Due to overcrowding at the Washington Correction Center for Women (“WCCW”) many women are being transferred to the Yakima County Jail, where living conditions are far worse than any of the women could have anticipated. The women spend 23 or more hours confined in crowded cells without any hope of education, rehabilitation or other programs currently available at WCCW. People familiar with their plight have described the inhumane treatment their friends and loved ones are forced to endure.

One woman explains that her niece was transferred after just three months at WCCW for no explained reason. She left all of her belongings from loved ones and was taken to the jail, where she was strip searched and placed in a cell with 23 other women. Her niece’s daily routine consists of 24 hours of dead time in a cell, with the possibility the guards may, at their discretion, allow for an occasional time out. There is no fresh air during the time out, which takes place in a trash-filled alley. There is 1 shower and 2 toilets for the 24 women. The shower runs day and night and the windows are blacked out. Visitation is restrictive and allowed for only one hour.

Contrast this with living conditions at WCCW. There the women share a room with one other person, eat in a cafeteria and experience out times with fresh air. They are also able to work and take a variety of classes designed to facilitate successful reentry following their confinement. WCCW also allows 3 hour visitations on several days of the week.

Recently, members of the Family Council at WCCW drafted an open letter to Governor Inslee and the Washington State Legislature describing a number of constructive actions the State can take to alleviate this situation. The letter reads, part:

As members of the Family Council at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), we are deeply concerned about the treatment of women prisoners, the challenges of family and community reunification, and specifically, the transfers to Yakima County Jail or any other County Jail as a measure to address overcrowding.

WCCW is our largest women’s facility and staff and volunteers work hard to help provide best practice programming for every woman focused on education, vocational training, gender responsive policy, mental health needs, parenting, and substance abuse treatment. These programs improve public safety and lead to desistance and promote pro-social behavior.

WCCW would like to expand programming opportunities but severe overcrowding hinders the expansion of programs. It is critical that criminal justice and prison reform be one of the top priorities of this legislative session to address the severe overcrowding at WCCW and support the facility in its effort to provide and expand programming opportunities for all women. WCCW has a capacity of 738 beds and has been operating over capacity since before 2012. Currently there are 1040 women registered at WCCW.

Despite planning proposals to address the overcrowding and ongoing requests for prison and sentencing reforms for women prisoners, the problem of overcrowding has simply been transferred from WCCW to Yakima Jail without resolution. The funding of Yakima Jail or any County jail to relieve overcrowding must stop. Taking a woman from WCCW who has been sentenced to prison and transferring her back to a jail for six-months causes confusion and unnecessary trauma.

We are advocating for the following solutions:

  1. Increase Good time and Earned time to reinforce RCW 72.09.010 which states in Section 5: (d) …” The individual who works to improve himself or herself and the community should be rewarded for these efforts….” Transferring women to a County Jail is not a reward it is a punishment. It punishes not only the individuals sent, but their family members and their community support as well. Once a woman enters a prison, she can begin programming, receive necessary treatment, work on her reentry plan, stay involved and closely connected to her children and family, and work to improve herself. A transfer back to a county Jail actively hinders improvements and removes supportive structures necessary for success.
  2. Use RCW 70.48.240 to hold women after sentencing until room is available to admit them to WCCW and provide these women with the Good time according to RCW related to time in a County Jail.
  3. Create and utilize all alternative sentencing options for women and expand criteria for women eligible for sentencing alternatives such as Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA/CPA).
  4. Establish clear criteria for what emergency overcrowding is and invoke RCW 9.94A.870: “Emergency due to inmate population exceeding correctional facility capacity.
  5. Request that the currently allocated funding for the use of County Jails to relieve the overcrowding be reallocated to support work release facilities and the opening of Maple Lane as a facility for women.

As the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) Family Council, we look forward to working with the Governor and the Washington State Legislature to improve the conditions of incarceration for all women and assist the DOC in making prison a place where women prisoners can both experience accountability and achieve full rehabilitation through programming while maintaining their inherent human dignity.

We hope that you take quick action to stop the transfers to County Jails and support the alternatives available.

Civil Survival supports the efforts of the Family Council at WCCW and encourages other concerned citizens to speak to their representatives about addressing this growing crisis.