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Amid ACLU lawsuit, King County officials say Seattle jail will eventually need to be replaced

caption: King County Jail in downtown Seattle.
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King County Jail in downtown Seattle.
King County Photo

Officials have conceded that the King County Correctional Facility will eventually need to be replaced, because it's no longer meeting the needs of people held at the facility.

Two years ago, King County Executive Dow Constantine characterized the jail, located in downtown Seattle, as having many shortcomings.

A lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU of Washington alleges the county is not meeting the requirements of a 1998 settlement agreement, which calls for the county to offer timely medical care for people held at the jail, and address overcrowding and understaffing that contributes to unsafe conditions at the facility.

“We're seeking a court order, ordering the county to take particular steps to come into compliance in a timely manner, to keep the risk to the people who are incarcerated down to a minimum,” said La Rond Baker, legal director of the ACLU of Washington.

The ACLU reports that over the last year, they’ve received a number of complaints and concerns about the conditions in the King County Correctional Facility.

This is the first time this settlement agreement has ever had to be enforced in court, Baker said.

“Over the decades, we've worked with the county on a number of issues and have always been able to find a way for the county to come back into compliance with the settlement agreement.”

The ACLU argues King County could restrict some jail bookings of those accused of nonviolent felonies, to ease a staffing crunch. Baker also said the ACLU has been talking with the county since August 2022 to resolve the alleged violations.

A spokesperson for the King County Executive Office said in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the ACLU has rejected continued dialogue and partnership in favor of a lawsuit, but regardless, King County will continue to work toward solutions that preserve public safety and provide appropriate conditions of confinement for persons housed in the downtown jail."

The statement also maintains that the county doesn’t have the authority to refuse to book people arrested on felony charges.

"The Executive has also been extremely clear that jail cannot be the first step for treating someone’s behavioral health. That’s why he proposed the Crisis Care Centers levy, which would bring in an additional billion dollars to the behavioral health system in King County if approved by voters in April," the statement continues.

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