Citizens urge committee to pass Nealey bill to deter correctional officer assaults

Stan and Geneva DeLong remain in deep mourning over the loss of their daughter, Lakewood police officer Tina DeLong Griswold, but they have vowed to do what they can to ensure the protection of other law enforcement and corrections officers.

Griswold was one of four Lakewood police officers shot to death in November in a Pierce County coffee shop. Her parents travelled from Post Falls, Idaho, to Olympia to testify today in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. Terry Nealey.

Nealey’s measure, House Bill 3008, would create an additional deterrent against assaults of correctional officers by allowing money from a civil judgment to be deducted from the wages, gratuities or workers’ compensation benefits of an inmate who engaged in the attack.

Speaking before the Human Services Committee, Geneva DeLong, who’s son, Tom, is a 27-year correctional officer, said she discovered from a Web site that 120 law enforcement officers nationwide were killed last year, including 10 who served as correctional officers.

“As I went through that site, I realized I’m not here just speaking for Tina and Tom. I’m speaking for the 10 correctional officers that died in 2009 and all the other law enforcement officers. About a quarter of the way through, I started crying. I’m in the library…and I thought, ‘Lord, please help me. I need to present these 120 to this committee,’” said Geneva DeLong. “So, if you can imagine 120 people in this room, and then imagine the families and the friends that go along with them, I ask you to do this right now. I am not speaking for myself. I am speaking for them.  Our officers are the only thing that stands between us and evil. When that shield is broken or chipped, we suffer.”

Stan DeLong told committee members of his extensive experience in law enforcement and corrections, and the dangers corrections officers face inside prison walls.

“I know what they go through. A lot of them get hurt. There is no compensation for them,” he said. “I know what I thought when I left the house. Will I return? We’ve got to find a way to have some protection for these correctional officers and police officers. Do we care? I hope so.”

Nealey, R-Dayton, said he sponsored the bill at the request of correctional officers at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

“The penitentiary has gained quite a reputation for taking on the hard cases and being able to handle them. There are approximately 6,000 corrections officers that are working in this type of situation. It’s a dangerous job inside the walls, and legislation like this has been effective in other states toward curbing inmate violence against corrections officers,” said Nealey. “Some inmates at Walla Walla are the worst offenders in the state and many are in for life. It’s difficult to come up with a deterrent. Many make very little money inside the prison, so when a percentage of that is taken away, it removes privileges that mean a lot to a lifetime inmate. So that is what has made it effective.”

Department of Corrections employee Darren Kelly told the committee that inmates often use their wages for items such as soda pop, tennis shoes, television sets, and other comforts.

“When that portion of money they utilize for those things is deducted, you see what a behavioral impact it makes on them.” said Kelly. “It’s an outstanding deterrent, especially if you’ve got somebody with life without parole. He punches you in the face and he gets four more years, he doesn’t care. That’s not going to deter the assaultive behavior.”

Nealey says the law already sets up a deduction formula of how inmates’ money can be used, according to his or her obligations. Money is withheld to satisfy child support payments, pay for incarceration, provide a percentage to the state general fund, and satisfy any legal financial obligations ordered by the court system. Nealey’s bill would also set aside up to 20 percent of earnings from inmates who have assaulted an officer.

Brandon Johnson, a Walla Walla attorney who serves on the Washington Staff Assault Task Force, said a process already exists for correctional officers and employees to bring civil lawsuits against inmates who have engaged in violent assaults. He said Nealey’s bill would allow for a more streamlined process of deductions.

“The garnishment process we have in Washington is incredibly burdensome, time consuming and expensive. This bill would allow deductions to be made prior to funds reaching the offending inmate’s account,” said Johnson.

“It’s important to point out this bill would only impact inmates who choose to violently assault corrections officers and DOC employees. An inmate who follows the rules and chooses not to engage in that behavior would have no financial consequences whatsoever. The purpose of this legislation is accountability and deterrence,” added Johnson. “Corrections officers are engaged in a dangerous job. But it is not part of their job description to be assaulted. They didn’t sign up for that. We should do everything possible to deter that type of behavior.”

Although no action was taken on the bill today, Nealey is hopeful the committee will soon pass the measure.

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