COVID-19 CRISIS and Public Defense

In the last two weeks, the public defenders at the Snohomish County Public Defender Association (SCPDA) have worked tirelessly to reduce the number of people incarcerated at the Snohomish County Jail.  The efforts resulted in the Snohomish County Jail reducing from approximately 800 people to approximately 400. This is a significant achievement that best protects these vulnerable clients and the community.

The vast majority of these clients released from jail are represented by public defenders from SCPDA and other local attorneys working in public defense. SCPDA leadership was in regular contact with local criminal justice stakeholders from the courts, prosecutors, office, and the jail. SCPDA urged for COVID-19 planning and pressed for protective action to reduce exposure and release of clients. It was the labor of attorneys, social workers, and administrative professionals who advocated for release one client at a time.

The work of this campaign of release is appreciated. It was accomplished with dedication and time, but also the personal risk of exposure. SCPDA implemented protective action internally with remote working, social distancing, and closing the reception lobby. The essential functions of public defense have continued:

  • Regular phone reception
  • Filing court documents
  • Delivering mail to and from the jail
  • Release planning and crisis management for clients in need
  • Scouring for community resources during this health emergency
  • Updating court orders for Least Restrictive Alternatives (LRAs) to permit clients to access COVID-19 protective equipment
  • Representing clients at the jail and in hospitals
  • Attending to the needs of clients in the community

Other stakeholders have taken protective action in this health emergency. The jail implemented social distancing for jail video hearings. The courts cancelled out of custody hearings and created additional hearings to expedite release motions. The prosecutor’s office issued a protocol to review pretrial cases which resulted in many agreed orders on release.

Thank you to everyone for their dedication, time, and efforts in reducing the jail population. The work to find housing, write and argue motions, contact clients, deliver and file necessary paperwork, and navigate frustrating and everchanging logistics all came together to help achieve this significant goal.

SCPDA is not done yet; this health emergency is not over. There are still more vulnerable clients to advocate for, and there is more work to be done during this time. The quick reaction and banding together resulted in release for hundreds of clients. The role of public defense is truly an essential function in society.

Additional News

Snohomish County Public Defender