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Inside Olympia — WA’s Dept of Corrections

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How is Washington’s prison system navigating the latest rise in covid cases? And how is it managing through ongoing staffing shortages? This week on Inside Olympia, host Austin Jenkins sits down for the full hour with state Secretary of Corrections Cheryl Strange.

Washington’s prison population has dramatically shrunk in recent years, one factor being the COVID pandemic. The system has also lost employees due to the governor’s vaccine mandate and other factors — creating a staffing shortage. Now as COVID continues to stress the staff and the inmate population, the department of corrections is hearing frustration from both.

As secretary, Strange says she hears those criticisms, but also hears from the families of inmates grateful for what the department is doing as it negotiates through the pandemic. She talks about what COVID means for staff and inmates, given the challenges of, for instance, maintaining social distancing within the walls of a prison.

Currently the “DOC,” as it’s called, is hiring. The department is running ads hoping to attract new workers to state prisons.

The incarcerated population in the state, now at an historically low level, could grow as COVID eases. Strange says thousands of people await sentencing by a court system backed up by the pandemic, including many with violent felony charges.

In addition, Strange discusses the agency’s goal of further reducing the practice of solitary confinement and embracing a health care model that puts the health and welfare of inmates front and center. The goal, she says, is reducing recidivism by releasing people who are more physically, emotionally and mentally well than they were when they entered prison.

All that and more, this week on Inside Olympia.

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