OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation today that requires a fatality review following any unexpected death in a Washington jail or prison.
Senate Bill 5119, sponsored by Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), requires prisons and local jails across Washington to conduct a fatality review any time an individual who is incarcerated dies unexpectedly or when the Office of Corrections Ombuds flags a case for review.
The new law establishes a process for convening a fatality review, including a requirement that the team carrying out the review be made up of people with specific expertise and no involvement in the case. These reviews will be used to develop recommendations for changes in policies and practices to prevent deaths and strengthen health and safety protections for those who are incarcerated.
“A normative process is already in place for the collection of information, investigation and reporting for deaths of children that occur while in the care of the state, as well as for vulnerable adult fatalities believed to be related to abuse or neglect,” said Darneille. “This legislation extends those best practices to unexpected deaths in prisons and jails, where people are also in the state’s care.”
In addition to providing a process for reviewing these cases internally, the law provides accountability and transparency that policymakers and the public have demanded for years, Darneille said. “There are currently no common standards that require jails to conduct reviews or report on findings, so there is no way of knowing if people who are incarcerated are killed while in jail due to interactions with other incarcerated persons or staff of the facility or die from injuries sustained while they are incarcerated.”
SB 5119 passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide bipartisan margin in the House. It will take effect 90 days after the legislative session ended on April 25.