Top photo by Steve Shay, Bottom photo by Sam Van Fleet
At SCORE misdemeanor jail in Des Moines, left to right are: Jane Dore, corrections officer, Penny Bartley SCORE director, Chet Latham, classification officer & 31 years with the Auburn jail, & Debbie Zeine, corrections officer, classifications officer who started the wall of art in her office, pictured, done by inmates for their self-esteem. Pictured bottom an officer works the "control room" with over 100 security screens and oneway glass where he monitors inmates in their pods.

Normandy Park-raised director of SCORE jail draws inspiration from modern facility, inmates

About a mile beyond the southern tip of the turbulent SeaTac runways, nestled within 16 wooded acres in Des Moines sits the South Correctional Entity, or SCORE, a misdemeanor jail serving Auburn, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Renton, Seatac, Tukwila, and other 'contract" communities. Opened Sept. 2, 2011, the state-of-the-art facility, which includes modern medical and dental facilities, is 164,000 square feet, slightly larger than a Costco. It currently houses about 300 male and 50 female inmates.

Those cities together built SCORES for $98 million. It costs $14 million annually to operate.

Between 35 and 120 inmates a day attend "video court." They sit in a small room, like a booth, with their public defender, and interpreter if needed, and face a computer screen with the live image of a courtroom in Federal Way or other local community where they communicate with the judge.

While the uber-secure facility boasts 500 surveillance cameras and each entry point to a hallway or room has electronic locks, some might say that, at least from the outside, the building looks like a modern school or office complex.

"As jails go, it's very nice," said SCORE Director Penny Bartley, who grew up in Normandy Park. She said a "director" runs a jail, while a warden runs a federal prison. "It doesn't scream 'JAIL' on the outside," she added. "We want to be a good neighbor." Its official address is 20817 17th Ave. South, Des Moines, off South 200th St., Des Moines.

Bartley appears content, even perky, possessing a lively bounce in her step as she navigates the corridors (one is nearly 400 feet long) and exchanges waves and smiles with some of the 84 corrections staffers. And, like the facility itself, she seems to buck her grittier Hollywood counterparts.

"We build local jails for friends and family," she said. "That's who's here. The inmate is somebody's brother, sister, or grandson. Everybody here has someone (outside) who loves them. People have made a bad choice which got them here. They are entitled to those constitutional rights that you and I are entitled to. Our job is to treat them with respect, to make sure they are safe and secure, and to provide customer service to our law enforcement partners who bring us the inmates and get those officers back to their communities quickly.

"If you can successfully parent teenagers, you can probably work really successfully in a jail," she said with a grin. "It's about being able to talk to people one on one. And these people here are having the worst days of their life so it's being able to tell them, 'This, too, will pass,' and help them get on with their life."

She credits her staff who she said has more interaction with the inmates on a daily basis.

Bartley attended Highline High School, then Central Washington University, and was hired by Normandy Park Police Department in 1984 for a couple of years while attending college. There she worked in the office typing police reports, finger-printing, and processing evidence.

She worked in the Renton jail for 21 years, and eventually was its director. First, she did crime prevention, then oversee records, and then serve as public information officer. In 1994 she was "given the jail for three months" she said, "And I fell in love with it. I thought, 'This is more fun than I should be allowed to have at work.'"

SCORE is not a King County entity, but an independent government agency created through the Interlocal Cooperation Act created by the cities it serves. Renton, where she once worked, and Auburn ran two smaller jails. They were closed and absorbed here.

"We partner with Valley Cities Counseling, King County Mental Health, prison ministries, and have NAVOS staff here to serve inmates who are particularly challenged with psychological issues. On release NAVOS is hooking them back up with mental health services.

"I think people should be proud of this facility," she said. "People don't usually say, 'Please build a jail in my neighborhood.' As far as releasing inmates, we typically don't release them from here. They are transported back to the agency that arrested them. You don't see (released inmates) wandering up and down the street. We have never had an emergency response once to come to the building."

While former SCORE inmates cannot offer Yelp reviews, some do follow up with positive feedback. Bartley keeps a hand-written letter from a former male inmate once housed in a relatively high-security pod there she received last November. It reads, "I have unfortunately been to many jails and have seen a great many guards, yet none as respectful as I've seen here! So good job!(...)I bet if more jails treated people the way you guys do, this world would be a better place. Thank you."