Monday, May 12, 2008

Open Letter to Ron Sims

Ron Sims, King County Executive, is ultimately responsible for conditions at the King County Jail -- including the notorious Seattle jail, which was recently the target of a U.S. Justice Department investigation that turned up several serious problems.

I've heard Mr. Sims (a political activist of long standing) speak passionately and compellingly on a range of social justice issues. In his public speeches, Sims has always taken the side of the oppressed against the oppressor. Frankly, when the story of the Justice Department investigation broke I was flabbergasted. But what amazed me even more was Sims' response to the Justice Department's findings. Instead of frankly owning up to the problem and committing to do something about, Sims decided to circle the wagons around the bureaucracy, claiming that everything was OK at the jail and that prisoners' rights were being scrupulously observed.

Disheartened and disgusted, I decided to call Mr. Sims out on his failure to address the problems at the Seattle jail. Following is the text of an open letter I recently sent him asking how he intends to clean up the mess in his own house.

Note: In fairness to Mr. Sims, I will post any response he makes to the letter on this blog. In the meantime I encourage others to write similar letters.


* * * * * * * *
Ron Sims
King County Executive
701 Fifth Ave Suite 3210
Seattle WA 98104

May 8, 2008

Open Letter to RON SIMS
Re: Justice Department Report and King County Jail

Dear Mr. Sims,

Last November the United States Justice Department released the findings of a months-long investigation the department had done into conditions at the King County Jail facility in downtown Seattle. The investigation was launched following complaints from the county’s own ombudsman concerning health services provided to inmates and other problems at the jail.

Among the Justice Department’s most serious findings were:
· that inmates were being physically and sexually assaulted by guards.

· that there were many instances of unnecessary use of force by guards against inmates who were either already restrained or not violent.

· that medical care for inmates has been consistently substandard, leading to inmate deaths and outbreaks of hard-to-control
and highly infectious bacteria.
Perhaps the most worrisome finding was that allegations of inmate abuse or medical malfeasance were not properly investigated or followed up on. Not surprisingly, since November there have been several other news reports concerning the health situation at the jail.

Mr. Sims, these charges are both serious and credible. At the time the Justice Department report was released you said little. You did say, however, that you were convinced that King County is running a “constitutionally sound facility.” I’m not an expert in constitutional law, but failing to protect the health of people in your care doesn’t sound “constitutionally sound” to me. I would like to know what you are doing concretely to investigate and correct these ongoing problems at the jail.

I’ve often heard you speak passionately against those who would violate other people’s rights. Yet where is that passion now that an organization you are responsible for stands accused? Are you a righteous man? Or are you one of those who plucks motes out of other’s eyes while ignoring the beam in his own? Please think about the responsibility you bear with regard to the safety of jail inmates, and let me know what you’re doing to ensure that inmates are not harmed while they are in your custody. Thank you.


A Concerned King County Resident