Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State prison system prepares for convicted killer Isaiah Kalebu

Corrections Lt. Jeff Sanders Shows Off The Inside Of The “Special Transport” Van Used For High-Risk Inmates
Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Corrections Lt. Jeff Sanders Shows Off The Inside Of The “Special Transport” Van Used For High-Risk Inmates

SHELTON, Wash. – The recent murder trial in Seattle of Isaiah Kalebu made headlines for the brutality of his crime – the rape and butcher knife attack of two women in their home that left one of them dead.

But the trial also attracted attention because of Kalebu’s volatile outbursts in court and suicide attempts. Now he’s headed to prison – for life.

In Washington, virtually all new prison inmates start their sentences at the sprawling, razor-wired Washington Corrections Center. Most inmates arrive on what’s called the “chain bus.”

But not someone like Isaiah Kalebu. Prison officials here have seen the news reports detailing how he was forced to wear a suicide smock and shackled to a chair. And they’ve seen Kalebu’s record from the King County jail. A hundred page packet that details more than seventy infractions during the two years he was locked up there.

“There are things like exposing himself in front of female staff, refusing direct orders, threatening to kill correctional officers," said Patrick Gosney, who is considered an inmate profiler. “So we have violent behaviors, we have mental health issues.”

A special challenge

Gosney says he sees maybe four new inmates a year that present Kalebu’s level of danger and complexity. Just to get him here prison officials will send a special van with a chase car behind. The van has tinted windows and two steel cages inside.

Once Kalebu arrives at the Washington Corrections Center he will most likely go to the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) otherwise known as solitary confinement. It’s where all inmates convicted of aggravated murder – as Kalebu was – start their prison term, unless they’re headed to death row.

Edward Woods runs solitary where prisoners are locked down 23 hours a day. When they are let out they’re always cuffed and escorted by two officers. Inmates who act up are subject to restraint chairs, spit masks and even electric shock.

Behaviors change

A few inmates will spend their entire twenty-plus year sentence in IMU. But Woods says that’s rare. More common, he says, an out of control county jail inmate like Kalebu shows up here and it’s as if a light switch is flipped.

“It’s almost like a bi-polar person who’s been manic the entire time that they’re in the jail and when they get to the prison it’s like everything is good. It’s hard to describe but I’ve seen it quite a bit,” Woods said.

The finality of a long sentence or the relative calm of prison over jail, either way stability is certainly what Michael Schwartz hopes for Kalebu. He led the defense team.

“I’m not only hopeful, but I’m confident that based on my knowledge of the Department of Corrections he will get significantly more help while he’s there,” Schwartz said.

If an inmate like Kalebu arrives at Shelton and his mental health is so degraded he poses an immediate risk to himself, there’s another option: the mental health wing. The goal – while not always accomplished – is to stabilize a mentally ill inmate enough so that he can eventually move into the general prison population.

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.