Governor Calls for Prison Murder Probe

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - 4:15pm

Washington state inmate strangled guard with microphone cord during escape attempt.

The death of Washington State Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl could have an impact on this year's legislative session.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt said he wants to investigate how maximum security offenders can be moved to medium security facilities because of good behavior.

Byron Scherf, a medium-security inmate and the suspect in Biendl's death, was once considered maximum security.

Hewitt also said he wants to propose legislation to give all corrections officers a "panic button" device if they are unable to radio for help.

"So if their life is in danger they press a button and someone within 10 to 15 seconds would be there to help them," said Hewitt.

Rep. Christopher Hurst, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, said the death reminds legislators how dangerous it is to work in a prison.

Hurst said that could come up during the session as lawmakers make budget cuts.

"Here's a place where we have to be very careful. We are down to the bare bones when it comes to staffing in corrections facilities and that is very dangerous," said Hurst.

The Department of Corrections has been hit with more than $270 million in budget cuts since 2008.

Twelve-hundred positions have been cut, but no corrections officer positions have been eliminated, according to a DOC spokesperson.

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