2 years after Biendl death, officers say prisons still not safe

SEATTLE -- Outrage over the murder of corrections officer {A href=""}Jayme Biendl spurred top-to-bottom security changes. But two years after the killing, some workers say Washington's prisons remain as dangerous as ever.

After Biendl was murdered, the Department of Corrections compiled 1,200 suggestions to improve staff security. The department implemented 800 of those suggestions, but some say the changes have not made prisons safer.

Sgt. Michael Boe will never forget the night Biendl was murdered two years ago. He started CPR the moment he found her on the chapel floor at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

"It still hurts," Boe said. "I still miss her. She was going to teach my daughter how to ride a horse and she'll never get that chance."

Biendl had been strangled by inmate Byron Scherf, who's being tried for the murder.

The Department of Corrections followed up with extensive, system-wide security changes, but Boe said he's no safer today than he was two years ago.

"We still have one-man posts. The chapel where Jamie was working that night is a one-man post," he said.

DOC officials say staffing levels are on ongoing concern, so they now double up at critical points during the day.

"All program areas are open and closed with at least two staff members, just identifying that as high risk times," said Dan Pacholke of the Department of Corrections.

The department has implemented more training and brought in new equipment, and there's also a revamped approach to safety on the job, including safety advisory committees at the state and local level.

"It's not a perfect system, but in a relatively short period of time, that is a pretty sweeping level of change," Pacholke said.

Boe and other corrections officers want the right to call an arbitrator to help work through some of the ongoing issues, such as staffing levels. He said Biendl's death is a reminder that prisons are inherently dangerous and changes must be made to minimize the risks.

"We need to keep her memory alive," he said. "She needs to serve as an example of what went horribly wrong and that we can fight that, that we can learn from it."

A pair of bills are now moving through the state legislature to grant corrections officers the right to arbitrate labor disputes. DOC officials say that would be unnecessary and expensive.