Friday, April 11, 2008

The Average Stay is 72 Hours, Not 6 Months...

Yesterday, I went to jail.

Have I mentioned how awesome my job is? Last Friday afternoon, I toured around King County parks in White Center and the East Side. Yesterday, I toured the King County jail in downtown Seattle. Were you not aware that we have a jail just a few short blocks from the Columbia Tower, Nordstrom's, and Pike Place Market? Well, we do.

I toured with several others from my office. When we returned to the office, we all marched into the ladies room, washed our hands, and compared notes (funny coincidence that all of the criminal justice budget analysts in the office are women). Some people were depressed; it is difficult to see those who are not capable of living safely and crime-free in our society. Mental illness and/or chemical dependency is a huge issue for our criminal justice system. Others may have felt a bit threatened: a tour of half a dozen young women through the jail raises the attention of the mostly male inmates, in less than polite and complimentary ways.

I left encouraged and impressed. The staff was very professional. Care has obviously been taken to balance guard and prisoner security, freedoms, and efficiency, not an easy thing to do. I also was taken dramatically back to my days in the Navy. The institutions seem to share more similarities than differences. There are certain ways one develops structure to manage a large number of people from different backgrounds and capacities in a stressful and crowded environment. The uniforms looked the same, the gally kitchen operated in the same way, the attention to cleanliness and order were the same, and the differentiation based on role and rank were the same.

Fundamentally, however, I'd rather see those who cannot function independently in society in this institution where they are safe, fed, medicated, and cared for, than out on the streets, huddled in sleeping bags in parks, strung out and on the bus, or clustered in the streets of Pioneer Square.


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