The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) has responded to allegations leveled at Larch Corrections Center Superintendent Lisa Oliver-Estes following the start of protests near the prison calling for the prison head to be ousted.
DOC spokesperson Jeremy Barclay responded to the allegations made by the United States Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees Pacific Northwest Chapter claiming numerous instances of leadership misconduct, in some cases involving discrimination.
Among others things, allegations against the superintendent included mistreatment of military veteran staff, termination of employment over dubious cause and allegations of improper hiring practices. On April 28 a small group of protesters showed up on the road approaching the prison, waving signs calling for Oliver-Estes’ removal.
In response to the allegations, Barclay noted an October 2017 Department of Justice cultural assessment where it was stated that “from the perspective of both the offenders and staff, resident safety is in good order with minimal violence activity in the facility. This is a testament to the communication and enforcement of the rules and regulations and the facility.”
Regarding the refusal of Oliver-Estes to allow an inmate to attend his grandson’s funeral, one of the several allegations, Barclay noted DOC escort policy took into account factors such as current custody status, mental health, behavior, risk to reoffend, and other factors. Those calling for Oliver-Estes’ removal said that the refusal was based on possible gang connections, which they argued was not an issue given that the inmate had been incarcerated for 20 years.
One of the coalition’s allegations regarded the prison population, claiming that prison staff’s demographics did not line up with prisoners’ own stats. Barclay provided statistics specifically on prisoners where about 70 percent of offenders were listed as white, a higher percentage than what the coalition and protesters had claimed.
In response to alleged mistreatment of military veteran staff, Barclay noted that Oliver-Estes received the Patriot Award from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program “due to her work in supporting the needs of employees who have served, and currently serve, in the military.”