Local prison workers to help out in Monroe

Officers and staff from the penitentiary will spell colleagues on the west side so they can attend a fallen officer's memorial service.

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WALLA WALLA -- Washington State Penitentiary officers are working on the state's west side today so others can attend a memorial for a slain colleague.

At least 13 penitentiary staff members are covering shifts at the Monroe Correctional Complex to allow personnel from that prison to be at the service for Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl. The WSP honor guard has also been sent to the memorial service in Everett today, said Joni Aiyeku, prison spokeswoman.

In addition, a number of WSP staff and corrections officers are taking administrative leave to be at the memorial, Aiyeku said. The prison has also sent between six to 12 of its administrative staff to help out at the Monroe facility.

Hundreds of Biendl's co-workers from the prison at Monroe are expected to attend the afternoon memorial at Comcast Arena. Along with those from Walla Walla, corrections officers from around the state are also expected to be at the ceremony.

Biendl, 34, was killed Jan. 29 while working at her post in the chapel at the reformatory. Byron Scherf, 52, a convicted rapist serving a term of life without parole, has been identified as the suspect in the murder.

Officers and staff at the penitentiary and at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center held a candlelight vigil Saturday night in Biendl's honor. The ceremony started at 10:34 p.m., the time that Biendl was found in the chapel at Monroe. On Sunday afternoon, all of the state's 13 prisons held a moment of silence for Biendl, who would have turned 35 that day.

The Department of Corrections announced Friday it was making operational changes in the wake of Biendl's murder intended to increase officer safety.

One change will be the elimination of one-day modified lockdowns at all eight major prisons. The lockdowns began in November so additional staff members would have temporary layoffs due to budget cuts.

Other changes require prisons to begin counting staff members whenever a prisoner cannot be accounted for and for "response and movement" officers to begin monitoring single-officer posts on a periodic basis.

Officers will also be drilled on the use of silent alarms on all hand-held radios.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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