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Crime, Law and Justice
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

New Legislation Renews Push For Washington Prisons Ombudsman

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Thomas Hawk
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As Washington’s prison population swells, there are renewed calls for a state prisons ombudsman. Legislation to create the position was filed Wednesday in advance of the January legislative session.

The proposal calls for an independent office of corrections ombudsman to focus on inmate rights, dispute resolution and systemic reforms. Previous proposals have failed, including in 2014. Back then the Department of Corrections said its current grievance system was working and defended the state’s prison system as humane and compassionate.

However, family members of inmates testified otherwise.

“We’re talking about complex issues of mental health, nutrition, medical health and incarceration,” Julie Tackett said. Her family member was in a unit for mentally ill inmates at Monroe.

“There’s not a really clear way that a lot of concerns of family members can be addressed with current policy,” Tackett added.

Under the newly proposed legislation, the prisons ombudsman would have the authority to enter prisons and conduct investigations into allegations of abuse or neglect. The legislation would also create an ombudsman advisory council made up of lawmakers, inmate family members and a former inmate, among others.