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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."

Jail Conditions And Who's Locked Up Have Some Washington Lawmakers Concerned

Thomas Hawk
Flickr -

Washington jails are old, crowded and holding people who are disabled, mentally ill and often haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. County jails are often the first stop for people who enter the criminal justice system.

Some bail out fairly quickly. Many others remain locked up.

Next week, a panel of state lawmakers will hear from experts on ways to improve jail conditions and reduce the jail population.

“There are too many people in jail awaiting trial who are not a threat to community safety,” said Democratic state Rep. Roger Goodman, chair of the House Public Safety Committee.

Goodman wants judges to have better tools for assessing the risk a jail inmate poses. And he wants more community-based services to make sure criminal defendants show up for trial and get the mental health or drug treatment they may need.

“But not to warehouse them in jail pending trial,” he said. “That’s expensive and arguably a violation of their rights.

Goodman noted that court rules presume that people accused of crimes be let out without bail pending trial unless they pose a flight risk or a risk to public safety.

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."