WALLA WALLA -- Washington State Penitentiary was not on a list of proposed cutbacks put forward by the Department of Corrections during the recent legislative session, but that plan was dropped in favor of a study now under way to find how to cut 1,580 beds from the state's entire prison system.
The DOC proposal and other information was sent by Richard Morgan, DOC director of prisons, to the Port of Walla Walla last week in response to questions raised during the latest meeting of a community task force hoping to find ways to head off possible cutbacks at the Washington State Penitentiary.
At the task force meeting, Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz asked Morgan if the corrections department had a plan in place for closing facilities during the last legislative session and what other correctional facilities have been asked to "give back jobs and beds" as has happened at the penitentiary.
In his reply to Kuntz last week, Morgan said he was able to determine the offer by prison officials to close units elsewhere came in response to a Senate proposal to close the McNeil Island Correctional Facility. "At that time the thinking was to close units and perhaps some camps," he said.
The proposal called for closing one unit each at McNeil Island and Washington Corrections Center, closing the Ahtanum View Corrections Center, the Larch Corrections Center and Pine Ridge Corrections Center and delaying the opening of a unit at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center until next July.
In a phone interview last week, Morgan said the DOC document was "a snapshot" of the proposals and counter-proposals being sent back and forth between legislators in the state House and Senate and corrections officials as they sought a way to trim the DOC budget to meet projected shortfalls in revenue and the prison population.
"Things were going fast," he said. "The Legislature was going to make cuts and the DOC's position was, 'let us make the cuts,'" Morgan said. The DOC document was created and sent to legislators, but ultimately that approach was abandoned in favor of the study.
"The important thing to remember is we were scrambling," Morgan said. "(The document) was a snapshot at that time of what was being proposed."
In regards to what other cuts have been made throughout the prison system, Morgan said those have included closure of the intensive management unit at McNeil Island followed by the closing of Units 1 and 5 at the Washington State Penitentiary's main institution along with converting the main institution to a medium custody facility.
Other cutbacks included converting the Washington State Reformatory at Monroe Correctional Complex to a medium-security facility, closure of a unit at the Pine Lodge Correctional Center for Women, closure of an 80-bed unit at Washington Corrections Center at Shelton and decreasing minimum security beds at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center to 300 instead of 600.
Kuntz said the information provided by Morgan was "somewhat helpful" to the task force.
The proposal by corrections during the legislative session shows "the best thinking of the DOC was not to close Washington State Penitentiary units. So, hopefully the consultants in doing their analysis will look to that in helping them make their decision," he said.
The study by consultants Christopher Murray & Associates will be delivered to the governor and Legislature in November. Along with prison beds, the firm has been charged with finding a way to eliminate beds in state Department of Social and Health Services facilities.