WA Scrambling to Address Prison Overcrowding; Inmate Fights Rise


Each week, 150 new inmates spend their first days in the Washington state prison system as “rugs,” the term used to describe offenders who have to sleep on the concrete floor of cells because of overcrowding, says the Seattle Times. Inmates don’t like having a third man squeezed into their cells; they complain about the heat generated by three people in a 6-foot-by-9-foot space. Recent closures of three prisons, coupled with a spike in incoming inmates, have some prisons bursting at the seams. The crowded conditions can lead to safety issues among inmates whose resentment boils over into anger, as well as the corrections officers who are assigned to watch over them. Officers regularly squeeze into the tight living units to break up fights.

Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner is scrambling to address overcrowding and is bracing for the projected need for about 160 additional prison beds statewide this summer. That’s down from 300 beds after officials announced Friday that all single-inmate cells at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe will now house two inmates, giving the prison system 140 new beds. The three-strikes law and changes in sentencing laws for some firearms-related crimes have led to longer sentences, boosting inmate numbers.

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