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Washington Prisons Will No Longer Punish Inmates For 'Self-Harm'

Washington’s prison system has announced a major policy change when it comes to inmates who harm themselves. The Department of Corrections said Thursday that it will no longer sanction inmates for cutting or other acts of self-injury.

Self-harm is associated with borderline personality disorder and other mental health conditions. Scott Frakes, Washington’s deputy prison director, said he’s seen it firsthand and it can be gruesome.

Until now, Washington inmates who hurt themselves were subject to discipline. Those violations could lead to segregation from other inmates and a loss of time off for good behavior.

But no longer. Frakes said the agency has decided to instead focus on getting the inmates help.

“What we could not find was any evidence that taking disciplinary action and issuing a disciplinary sanction changed the behavior," he said. "And that’s really the goal of our disciplinary process.”

Prison officials agreed to the change after Disability Rights Washington raised this issue. The advocacy group was concerned after learning several self-harming inmates were being held in segregation.

Vermont’s prison system made a similar policy change in 2006 following a class-action lawsuit. In Oregon, the Department of Corrections requires that Behavioral Health Services staff is notified when a self-harming inmate is put in segregation or faces a disciplinary hearing.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."