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Washington Prisons Will No Longer Punish Inmates For ‘Self-Harm’

Justin Steyer

Washington’s prison system has announced a major policy change when it comes to inmates who harm themselves. The Department of Corrections said Thursday that it will no longer sanction inmates for cutting or other acts of self-injury.

Self-harm is associated with borderline personality disorder and other mental health conditions. Washington’s deputy prison director Scott Frake says he’s seen it firsthand, and it can be gruesome.

“If you’re in a place where you have the capability to literally bite your finger to where—“ said Frakes, cutting short his own description.  

Until now, Washington inmates who hurt themselves were subject to discipline. Those violations could lead to segregation from other inmates and a loss of time off for good behavior. But that’s no longer the case. Frakes says the agency has decided to instead focus on getting the inmates help.

“What we could not find was any evidence that taking disciplinary action and issuing a disciplinary sanction changed the behavior. And that’s really the goal of our disciplinary process,” he said.

Prison officials agreed to the change after Disability Rights Washington raised this issue. The advocacy group was concerned after learning several self-harming inmates were being held in segregation.

Vermont’s prison system made a similar policy change in 2006 following a class-action lawsuit.

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.