[Correction 2020-01-10. In the original article, we said “To his credit, Washington DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair approved a number of corrective recommendations by the OCO, including reversing the infractions, returning the complainant to work release, and instituting staff training in avoiding retaliation.” Per private communication with Amy Tate, who has publicly identified herself as the complainant here, the infractions were not reversed. Instead, DOC offered “in lieu of them reversing my 660 infraction they would be willing to reinstate 28 days of good time.” That is now corrected in the article.]
Officials at the Helen B. Ratcliff work release center in Seattle, WA retaliated against a resident for participating in a public forum on work release conditions, according to a recent report from the Washington Office of Corrections Ombuds (OCO). The unnamed complainant, while speaking at the public meeting, had her residence searched, and was subsequently infracted with two violations, resulting in her return to prison and loss of good time. The OCO report found that staff were looking for excuses to infract, with emails saying “We have 2 offenders from our facility who attended the meeting, can you tell me what infraction you are using?” because the complainant was presenting a “PP presentation to bash DOC”. To retaliate against this participation, staff infracted the complainant for “using social media” and for finding an alternate way to receive cash owed her when the way offered by DOC failed and she could not get their assistance.
In investigating the incident, the OCO documented multiple incidents of misrepresentation by the work release staff, such as “the CCO was not accurate in her portrayal of the evidence,” and OCO found facts that were “contrary to what was alleged in the hearing process.” Ultimately it was clear that the infractions were intended as retaliation for attending the public meeting and reporting on conditions at the work release center. The report is a scathing rebuke of the retaliation attempt and subsequent coverup by staff.
To his credit, Washington DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair approved a number of corrective recommendations by the OCO, including
reversing the infractions restoring 28 days of good time [correction 2020-01-10], returning the complainant to work release, and instituting staff training in avoiding retaliation.
Unfortunately retaliation against people who DOC perceives as critical is a common problem, according to multiple conversations that Prison Voice has had with friends and family of incarcerated individuals. Some (but by no means all) DOC staff have serious attitude problems toward prisoners and their families, and probably should not be involved with corrections. But even when multiple complaints against individual staff are sustained, the problematic staff continue in their positions of authority.
We call upon DOC to be more aggressive at identifying and removing staff with attitude problems. Misrepresenting facts about individuals in their custody should result in severe sanctions to the accused staff (but rarely does).