PASCO -- Jerry Wonders once worked with corrections officer Jayme Biendl, who recently was killed at the state prison in Monroe.
Now a Coyote Ridge Corrections Center employee, Wonders believes precautions could have been taken that might have prevented her slaying Jan. 29.
Biendl's body was found in the prison chapel, where she had been working alone. Authorities believe she was strangled by an inmate.
Wonders was among more than 40 corrections employees who staged an informational picket Wednesday in Pasco that was among 11 picketing events held statewide, including in Walla Walla, to demand that the Department of Corrections and the Legislature take steps to improve prison staff safety.
Wednesday afternoon, eight picketers held up signs as vehicles sped past them at the corner of Road 68 and Burden Boulevard.
The signs sported slogans such as "Safety, Dignity and Respect for state correctional workers" and "Stop the cuts at the Department of Corrections."
Others said, "1 murder, 1 stabbed, what's next?"
The stabbing occurred in the Walla Walla prison when an inmate allegedly stabbed a corrections officer in the face with a ballpoint pen Tuesday evening.
The officer, and two corrections officers who tried to help out, suffered minor injuries. They were treated at a hospital and released, according to DOC.
DOC employees have been working for months to improve safety at state prisons.
About 400 rallied at the state Capitol in December to protest funding cuts they say threaten the safety and security of employees, inmates and the public.
The Department of Corrections has cut more than $220 million and 1,200 positions and closed two prisons since 2008. It is in the process of closing a third, McNeil Island Corrections Center.
Wonders, a 20-year DOC employee, said Wednesday that having more than one staff person in an area might have prevented Biendl's death.
He also favors having corrections staff regularly call in to a central office at their prison throughout their shift. He said that system was in place in some units at Monroe, but not in Biendl's unit.
"It's not the safest job, and we all understand that," Wonders said, "but if you can make a job a little safer, you should," he said. He said that could include better security systems, such as better placement of doors, windows and cameras.
Katrina Ortiz, another picketing Coyote Ridge corrections officer, said she would like to see more staff at the minimum- and medium-security prison in Connell.
"I feel safer if I have another officer with me," said Ortiz, who has worked at Coyote Ridge for five years.
She said she works in a unit where she is responsible for 130 inmates. Another officer floats between her unit and another 130-inmate unit.
Brett Clinton, a Coyote Ridge corrections officer for more than three years, said he wants to see Coyote Ridge fill all of its open positions.
The facility has been gaining new prisoners since the state decided to save money by transferring inmates to the newly expanded prison while closing portions of older prisons.
Clinton also wants to see the Legislature pass legislation that would require that when DOC and the Teamsters Local 117, which represents corrections employees, can't reach a contract, a third-party arbitrator would have to be called in.
Department of Corrections officials said they are doing what they can to address employees' concerns.
Bernie Warner, DOC director of prisons, said that in the wake of Biendl's killing, a federal agency called the National Institute of Corrections is reviewing Monroe's procedures, policies and staffing.
And although DOC had announced plans in October to cut an additional $53 million from its budget for the rest of the current fiscal year, a DOC official said that figure has been revised downward.
Plans call for cutting about $48.4 million, said DOC spokeswoman Rowlanda Cawthon.
"It's positive news for us," she added.
As a result, corrections officer positions that were to be cut from prison kitchens will be retained.
About half of the recreational positions that were to be cut also are funded, Cawthon said.
-- Kathy Korengel: 509-582-1541; firstname.lastname@example.org