Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) Superintendent Rob Herzog presented to Monroe City Council and Mayor Geoffrey Thomas on Tuesday, Aug. 26, providing them with a brief history of the complex, an outline of the facility’s services, and an overview of the added safety precautions which have been implemented since the murder of Officer Jayme Biendl in 2011.
The complex, which first opened in 1908, employed a total of 11 correctional officers who oversaw 30 inmates. Today, the complex has a staff of approximately 1,200 employees who are responsible for over 2,500 offenders. In addition to housing offenders, the complex provides three major services; housing and treatment services for mentally ill offenders; housing and treatment services for sex offenders and housing and medical treatment services for offenders with serious health issues.
Herzog, the primary superintendent, is responsible for overseeing operations throughout the entire complex. He explained that, less than a year after Biendl’s murder, the agency created two secondary superintendent positions to help him manage the facility.
The superintendent responsible for managing both the Special Offenders Unit and the Intensive Management Unit is Margaret Gilbert, and the superintendent of the Twin Rivers Unit is Daniel White.
The Washington State Reformatory, the oldest part of the complex, houses approximately 720 medium-custody-or less inmates, and also includes an inpatient hospital that can be utilized by other correctional facilities within the state.
“Many of the men who get seriously ill come to the reformatory for treatment,” said Herzog.
The reformatory includes an inpatient hospice area and a dialysis unit.
The Special Offenders Unit (SOU) has an approximate population of 400 mentally ill inmates at all custody levels. The SOU is where all seriously mentally ill offenders are treated and housed.
The Intensive Management Unit (IMU) is the complex’s maximum security unit, which was opened in 2007. The IMU houses approximately 200 of the facility’s most dangerous and violent criminals.
The Twin Rivers Unit (TRU), which has a population of approximately 800, includes both medium and minimum custody level offenders and also houses the sex offender treatment program. The sex offender program can treat up to 200 inpatient offenders and also accommodates a post-treatment program on an out-patient basis.
“Our program runs anywhere from nine months to 18 months depending on the level of seriousness and the amount of treatment that the guys need,” said Herzog, who also shared that the sex offender treatment program is in its 25th year of operation.
Finally, the Minimum Security Unit (MSU), houses approximately 468 offenders.
Herzog explained that the Monroe Correctional Complex provides numerous programs which can be conducive to inmate rehabilitation including faith-based programs, addiction recovery, life skills programs and more. Certain offenders can even get the opportunity to work with animals; inmates can train dogs through the facility’s dog training program, and qualified SOU E unit offenders can participate in the Monroe Corrections Kitten Connections (MCKC) program.
E unit SOU offenders are considered medium custody.
The kitten program is facilitated by Purrfect Pals, a no-kill feline animal shelter located in Arlington. Purrfect Pals offers adoption services, foster-care opportunities, a free spay and neuter clinic and much more. They also offer assistance for low-income cat owners through their pet food bank, allowing people in need to obtain free cat food and other supplies.
In 2006, while seeking a way to help increase the adoptability of feral, semi-feral and otherwise under-socialized kittens, the shelter decided to try something new by inviting SOU E unit offenders to help socialize the potentially unadoptable critters.
Over time, the program has proven to be vastly successful both at saving the lives of kittens as well as positively impacting the behavior of the offenders. In order to qualify as a “foster parent,” the inmates must demonstrate excellent behavior, practice good hygiene, show psychiatric stability and more.
Thus far, 609 kittens have graduated from the MCKC prison foster program. In February of this year, the program was expanded to include the socialization of shy adult cats.
Purrfect Pals Manager of Foster Care and Shelter Relocation Programs Susan Bark, who heads up the MCKC program, shared that the program has saved countless kittens from being euthanized.
Other programs available to offenders at the complex include chemical dependency treatment, moral recognition therapy, anger management, workforce readiness and several others. Educational opportunities are available including adult basic education, English as a second language, computer basics, carpentry, horticulture and more.
There are also opportunities such as bicycle and wheelchair repair programs for inmates who feel inclined to participate in community service.
“We have a lot of guys up there that are interested in restorative justice,” said Herzog.
With the high concentration of mentally ill and violent offenders, the complex has had to seek innovative ways of allowing inmates to experience social interaction. Herzog explained that, in the past, the most problematic individuals would simply be placed in a long-term solitary confinement situation in hopes that they would eventually decide to alter their behavior.
This methodology, however, has come under fire due to the indelible effects that solitary confinement can have on an inmate’s mental health. One of the programs that the complex is using to help with this is called the Reintegration and Progression Program, or RAPP.
Utilizing heavy-duty “maximum security” metal chairs which are bolted to the floor, high-risk inmates can actually interact with one another.
“We put them in rooms together,” said Herzog. “We’ve started allowing them to talk to each other.”
There are even meditation and other classes in which inmates can participate.
“The whole goal is to start to get them re-socialized; get them out of maximum security, start progressing them down through the custody ranks; so that when they do release, they come to us at less risk,” continued Herzog.
When it comes to minimizing risk, Herzog explained that safety of both correctional officers and the inmates is his primary objective.
“My mission and responsibility as the superintendent is to ensure, first and foremost, that we run a safe prison,” said Herzog. “I want to talk about safety.”
Herzog, who has been in corrections for 32 years, shared that the push for added safety measures after Biendl was murdered was intense.
“When Jayme was murdered, nobody in our agency, from the superintendent on down, had ever experienced a line-of-duty death,” said Herzog. “So it was brand new to everybody.”
Increased levels of physical security equipment including cameras, radios, microphones and mace were installed where needed, implemented procedurally, and assigned to correctional staff. They also started a new initiative called “Two to Open, Two to Close” which mandates that two staff are present during the opening or closing of any prison facility.
Thirty-four year old Biendl, who was ambushed by inmate Byron Scherf, was in the process of closing the chapel when she was cornered and attacked.
Additional policy changes have been incorporated which control how the offenders are moved, or allowed to move, throughout the complex. Staffing has also been increased in certain areas of the facility.
Herzog shared that when it comes to the population of incarcerated individuals, things have changed drastically during his career in corrections. In the past, prisons would house individuals convicted of everything from auto theft, to burglary, to murder. Today, nearly all of the offenders are violent.
“Eighty-five percent of the population has been convicted of a violent offense,” said Herzog, also explaining that the remaining 15 percent, if not incarcerated currently for a violent crime, have violence in their history. “It’s a different breed and they’re violent guys.”
He stated that it’s incumbent on correctional staff to not only protect themselves but to also make sure that the population stays as safe as possible.
Ending on a positive note, Herzog shared that the complex was recently recognized and given accolades for their practices and procedures when it comes to dealing with mentally ill offenders. Upon spending a day at the complex, Human Rights Watch Senior Advisor Jamie Fellner came away requesting a video which demonstrates MCC’s use of force on mentally ill offenders.
“She wants to use that as an example of the professionalism which we manage the mentally ill up here, especially when it comes to the use of force,” said Herzog. “I was really proud of that. That was a pretty cool thing.”
For additional information on the Monroe Correctional Complex, please visit: http://www.doc.wa.gov/facilities/prison/mcc/. For additional information on the Monroe Corrections Kittens Connections program, please visit: http://purrfectpals.org/about/our-prison-foster-program/.