South Correctional Entity (SCORE), a multi-jurisdictional jail located in Des Moines, WA, has worked collaboratively with the AVID Jail Project of Disability Rights Washington since January 2015 to make swift and significant changes to improve conditions for inmates with mental illness. These changes are the result of a cooperative effort by the AVID Jail Project, SCORE administration, and the jail’s member cities to achieve sustainable reform through collaboration rather than litigation. On August 30, the AVID Jail Project released a report on the project’s ongoing advocacy and successful collaboration with SCORE.
Over the course of the last twenty months, AVID Jail Project staff have conducted regular monitoring visits at SCORE, provided information and assistance to inmates with mental illness, and discussed concerns at regular meetings with SCORE staff. “By meeting with inmates in their housing units and reviewing jail records, we were able to present SCORE with a clear and verified picture of our concerns. This helped give our meetings more of a problem-solving, rather than adversarial, spirit,” said Kayley Bebber, AVID Jail Project staff attorney. Matt Segal, a partner at Pacifica Law Group, which serves as SCORE’s general counsel, agreed: “We appreciated that DRW and SCORE were able to work together and think constructively about important public issues. When local governments and the advocacy community cooperate, everyone benefits.”
The report highlights changes that SCORE has made to provide better mental health care and housing for inmates with mental illness. According to SCORE director Penny Bartley, “Over the last year, SCORE has worked with DRW to implement several changes to improve the conditions of confinement, especially for those inmates with disabilities that are disproportionally represented in local jails.” By increasing mental health staffing and committing resources to this effort, SCORE has been able to open three designated mental health units, provide daily therapeutic programming, and improve provision of psychiatric medication. SCORE has also greatly reduced the use of restricted housing (solitary confinement), particularly for inmates with mental illness.
“We get more hours out of our cell now. We get to talk with other people in the groups. In the groups, we can share what has happened to us and share ideas that can help us get out of the situations that brought us here,” stated Shawntekia Seymour, an inmate describing the new women’s mental health unit, as compared to SCORE in 2012.
In light of the positive changes that SCORE has already made and its commitment to continued improvements, SCORE and DRW’s AVID Jail project signed a Memorandum of Collaboration (MOC), released with the report. The MOC outlines SCORE’s ongoing goals, such as exploring alternatives to restricted housing, increasing hours out of cell and therapeutic programming, creating individualized treatment plans that include reentry planning, and reforming SCORE’s disciplinary policies and procedures. The AVID Jail Project will continue to work with SCORE to monitor these improvements and to continue providing assistance to SCORE inmates with mental illness.
“Mental health programs are more readily available than they were a year ago . . . From when I first came in here to now, it’s better – they’re more caring . . . The way mental health is starting to deal with people faster is really good,” explained Danny Hawkins, inmate in a restricted unit, comparing SCORE in 2015 with SCORE today.
Disability Rights Washington, parent organization of the AVID Jail Project and Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.