Washington public defenders push for ending jail bookings for sex offenders, burglars, citing omicron risks

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Public defenders in King County, Washington, are pushing the prosecutor’s office to reduce jail bookings for suspects accused of non-violent crimes, arguing that they face a heightened risk of catching the coronavirus amid the spread of the omicron variant. 

The matter was discussed during a Tuesday morning virtual hearing held by the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. According to its website, the committee considers and makes recommendations on policies relating to law, safety, and criminal justice. 

A plane flies overhead the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle, Washington, U.S.
(Reuters/Lindsey Wasson)

The King County Department of Public Defense (DPD), run by Anita Khandelwal, presented an eight-page PowerPoint slide, arguing that jail bookings put suspects at a greater risk of catching COVID-19 in jail, and subjects their lawyers to longer wait times. 

The slides argued that “BIPOC people” – or people of color – and those experiencing poverty are impacted the hardest by these conditions.

Khandelwal’s presentation called on the county to file only “allegations of serious violence” but expand restrictions to the following offenses: possession of a stolen vehicle, residential burglary, failure to register as a sex offender, fugitive warrants, as well as drug charges related to possession and distribution. 

Policy proposals from the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. 
(King County)

“We are facing the worst crisis that we have seen since the pandemic started regarding access to counsel and access to court,” a slide reads. “Imperative that we take action now.” 

The presentation further suggested that prosecutors can reassess this proposed policy once the pandemic has passed. Any decision on the proposal falls on the King County Council.

Fox News has reached out to Khandelwal and the Department of Public Defense for further comment but did not hear back before publication. 

Similar measures have been proposed and, in some cases, put into place in other major metropolitan areas since the onset of the pandemic to varying results. 

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