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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."

Inslee Asked To Halt Transfer Of Women Inmates To Yakima Jail

Washington Department of Corrections
File photo of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.

Washington’s only maximum security prison for women is overcrowded. That means some inmates are being housed at the Yakima County Jail. Now family members are calling on the Gov. Jay Inslee to halt those transfers.

In a letter to Inslee, the families say the conditions at the Yakima jail are “awful” and that the transfers “cause confusion and unnecessary trauma.” They’re asking the governor to stop all transfers and declare an emergency that would allow for the early release of some women inmates. Barring that, they want Inslee to take other steps like opening up more beds at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.

Currently the Yakima jail is housing 47 women from the state prison -- they’re known as the “Purdy Gals.” They’re held in 24-bed dormitories where they share two toilets and two showers and have limited recreation opportunities.

However, Yakima County Department of Corrections Lieutenant Marta Keagle said conditions are “not awful” and notes the women inmates have amenities like mail service and a recent class on building strong families that the regular county jail inmates do not.

“They’re treated fair,” Keagle said. “We’re offering them really quite a bit and worked with the families.”

Keagle did confirm that the Yakima jail recently denied a request from the Family Council from the Washington Corrections Center for Women to tour the Yakima jail.

Keagle also acknowledged that the showers in the dormitories are in need of repair and upgrade. In fact, she said two of the women prison inmates are currently sleeping on the floor currently because one of the dormitories is undergoing a renovation.

The state inmates cycle in and out of the Yakima jail on six month rotations.

Inslee’s office said the legislature mandated the use of the Yakima jail as overflow. A spokeswoman for Inslee said it’s not an ideal or preferred facility and they are currently looking for other options.

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."