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Wash. prisons fined for safety violations after officer murder

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Lapses in training and “serious” safety violations may have contributed to the murder of a Washington correctional officer earlier this year. Those are the findings of a six month investigation by Washington’s workplace safety watchdog.

The agency issued citations and fines Wednesday against the Department of Corrections.

The Labor and Industries investigation paints a picture of lax enforcement of safety rules at the prison at Monroe. For instance, murdered Officer Jayme Biendl was supposed to check-in with "tower 9" after closing the prison chapel for the evening. She never made that report the night she was alleged strangled by an inmate.

The investigation found supervisors did not routinely enforce that particular requirement. As a result no one went to check on her welfare.

Tracey Thompson, head of the union that represents frontline staff like Biendl, says the findings vindicate her members.

“A culture of complacency only exists in a facility or in a workplace if those who are managing the workplace allow it to exist," Thompson said. "And that’s what happened here in my view.”

Acting prisons director Dan Pacholke acknowledges complacency existed and says several corrective steps have already been taken. The Department of Corrections faces $26,000 in fines for three violations – one of them is a repeat violation.

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.