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Washington Jail Settles Work Release Suit

On April 25, 2002, United States District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein approved a settlement agreement reached between the King County Jail in Kent, Washington, and a class of female prisoners who had sued alleging discriminatory practices in relation to access to work release, good time and trustee programs. The suit charged equal protection violations because female prisoners at the KCJ were not made eligible for these programs the same as male prisoners were.

The four named plaintiffs in the class action suit - Laura Nastase, Esther Flygare, Darlene Livingston and Marilyn Snell - were represented in the case by attorney Patricia Arthur of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle. In a Third Amended Complaint filed in March 2001, plaintiffs detail how KCJ's work release, work time credit, trustee, and good time credit programs discriminate specifically on the basis of gender. (The original Complaint was filed in early 2000.)

The suit alleged that women were completely denied access to the work release and work time credit programs that allow male prisoners the opportunity to work outside the jail during the day to pay their fines and reduce their sentences.

Women who applied for the outside work programs were instead placed on electronic home detention, where good time reductions are not available. As a result, women ended up serving longer sentences than their male counterparts. In addition, the suit charged that male prisoners selected as jail trustees were allowed significantly greater privileges than female trustees.

As part of the settlement, the parties agreed to dismiss all claims relating to the trustee program, although the KCJ "reaffirms its commitment to maximize access to trustee opportunities to female inmates."

KCJ also agreed to develop specific written criteria allowing female prisoners the same access to work release and work time credit programs as male prisoners. The settlement agreement also mandated that KCJ develop a written procedure whereby a female prisoner denied access to a work program can appeal the decision. In addition, a list of all females deemed ineligible for the program must be submitted to an expert appointed to oversee and ensure compliance with the agreement, Ray Coleman.

The parties agreed that Coleman, whose salary of $10,000 is to be paid by KCJ, should report to the parties in the event he believes the written criteria is not being properly applied or if there is evidence of sex discrimination.

KCJ also agreed to pay the sum of $25,000 as final settlement of all costs and attorney's fees. The settlement is effective for only 12 months after which time a new lawsuit would need to be filed if the conditions complained of in the original complaint recur. See: Nastase, et al., v. Miller, et al., No. C-00-844-R, U.S.D.C., Western District of Washington (Seattle).

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Related legal case

Nastase, et. al. v. Miller, et. al.