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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."

Solitary Confinement Widely Used In Washington Jails Says Report

Disability Rights Washington
This photo from a report on solitary confinement in Washington state's county jails shows a medical solitary confinement cell in the Yakima County Jail.

Disabled inmates are suffering from discrimination and isolation in Washington jails. That’s the finding of a report out Wednesday from Disability Rights Washington.

The report titled “Cruel But Not Unusual” finds that most Washington jails use some form of solitary confinement. And a few use it a lot. The report specifically calls out the Benton County jail in Kennewick for placing physically disabled inmates in 23-hour-a-day lockdown.

But the jail’s Lt. Scott Souza disputes this characterization.

“We have special housing, but we don’t put people in solitary confinement,” he said.

Souza said his jail tries to house disabled inmates in the general population.

“But we do have specific instances where people are confined to wheelchairs or they have instances where they are vulnerable to being victimized then we will have them housed alone,” he added.

That could mean an inmate is locked in their cell 23 hours a day, but not as punishment.

Disability Rights Washington recommends jails avoid placing inmates with disabilities in isolation. The report also calls on jails to create therapeutic mental health units -- something the Benton County jail is in the process of doing.

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."