Local prison workers reach out to fallen colleague

These actions show that corrections professionals look out and care for each other.

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Thousands gathered Tuesday at an arena in Everett to honor Jayme Biendl, a corrections officer at the Monroe Corrections Complex who was killed in the line of duty.

But at least 13 corrections officers from the Washington State Penitentiary honored Biendl in a different way. The prison employees from Walla Walla traveled across the state to Monroe to cover shifts so Biendl's coworkers could attend her service at Comcast Arena. And about a dozen administrative staff workers from the penitentiary went to Monroe to help out at the facility.

In addition, the Washington State Penitentiary honor guard took part in the memorial service. And a number of penitentiary staff members and corrections officers took leave so they could attend the service for their colleague.

These actions speak volumes about the way corrections professionals look out and care for each other.

Those who work at prisons have very dangerous jobs. That's easy for most of us to forget. Day after day we in this community see those who work at the prison -- our friends and neighbors -- return home safely.

But that safe return is not by chance. Over the past 30 years the Department of Corrections and its employees have worked hard to make sure officers and staff have proper training. Procedures have been put in place that serve to make the institutions safe for staff and inmates.

Biendl's murder is a tragic reminder of the risk that's taken working behind the walls.

"Correctional officer Jayme Biendl was the best of who we are," Secretary of Corrections Eldon Vail told the crowd at the memorial in Everett. "She was and now always will be an example of professionalism, and dedication to duty whose memory embedded in our hearts and minds forever.

"... The tragic loss of Jayme Biendl must result in an honest public discussion about prison safety; a conversation that is overdue but much needed. Our staff deserves nothing short of a full commitment to prison safety... it is our promise to Jayme's family that her loss will not be in vain."

State officials are reviewing procedures at the prisons around the state in an effort to avert another tragedy.

Changes have already been put in place. One change announced last week was the elimination of modified lockdowns at all eight major prisons that were put in place to allow for more staff members to take furlough days without pay in order to save money.

Lockdowns increase tension in an already tense environment. The effort to save money turned out to be, as the old saying goes, penny wise and pound foolish. The DOC made the right call in pulling the plug on the experiment.

Other changes have been made and more will come.

This tragedy has shaken the entire state and spurred action on making safety the top priority.

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