Washington State Penitentiary

Because of the health and safety concerns, the Union-Bulletin is allowing unlimited access to our stories and resources about the novel coronavirus. However, if you’re able to subscribe, please support our journalism. Click here to start your digital or print subscription.

Five inmates have filed a legal claim against the Washington State Department of Corrections, contending it hasn’t responded to the COVID-19 outbreak properly.

Although the plaintiffs are not inmates in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, the outcome of the case could influence how inmates there are treated. That could include being released earlier than their expected dates.

Pierce County lawyer Blake Kremer, representing the inmates, is seeking an injunction and declaratory relief from the court. An initial hearing will be conducted telephonically Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court.

The tort claim said the department’s actions have left inmates exposed to the virus, which is “illegal and inhumane.”

The inmates demand that corrections officials show adequate safety measures are taking place without putting anyone into solitary confinement. That includes cleaning, prevention, and the release of low-level detainees and those at most risk for contracting the virus on electronic home monitoring.

Those measures will help keep inmates and employees from getting the virus, the suit stated, as well as help prevent an outbreak.

The claim also asks the court to prohibit the department from changing any sanitation practices without court approval.

A Department of Corrections response filed Monday stated its staff “have focused intensely on implementing measures to mitigate the threat COVID-19 poses to the incarcerated population.”

The measures included following guidance from the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Practices include screening for inmates and staff, developing protocols, getting and administering tests, quarantining possibly exposed people, suspending visitation, and imposing further cleaning and other health requirements.

DOC Spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie this morning declined to comment beyond the filed response.

The plaintiffs include one in the Pierce County Jail and four Department of Corrections inmates. Various charges against them range from drug possession to robbery and soliciting to murder, with sentences up to 14 years of confinement.

They aren’t the only ones demanding a change.

Another case, also involving five inmates, was filed Tuesday with Washington Supreme Court for immediate review.

Last week, 14 civil liberties and advocacy groups called on Gov. Jay Inslee to release inmates through his clemency and emergency powers, according to a Seattle Times report.

Emily Thornton can be reached at or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

Don’t miss an important story.

Get important news delivered to your email