Study puts penitentiary on chopping block

A consultant's report proposes closing the main institution, among other measures.

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WALLA WALLA - Closure of Washington State Penitentiary's main institution is among the top options identified in a draft report on ways to cut hundreds of beds in the Department of Corrections.

Released Wednesday by the state Office of Financial Management, the feasibility study recommends closing the old main institution as well as Ahtanum View Corrections Center in Yakima and half of the Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt. Three close-custody or medium-custody units at the penitentiary could also be shut down if changes are made to state sentencing policy, the study said.

This option would cut 1,653 beds, the study said. The prison's new west complex expansion, intensive management units, minimum security unit and administration buildings would not be affected.

The main institution has 852 funded medium-security beds. It also houses the prison's correctional industries that provide vocational training, a kitchen facility that feeds about 1,000 prisoners, the steam plant, a health-care unit, engineering department and administrative service.

An optional recommendation in the study is to downsize, but not close, the McNeil Island Corrections Center to a minimum security facility, close the Ahtanum facility and all of the Larch Corrections Center and as in the first option, shutter two close-custody or medium-custody units at the penitentiary if changes can be made to sentencing policy.

This option would cut 1,618 beds, the study said.

The closures are intended to help find $12 million in savings in the statewide Department of Corrections budget, which totals nearly $1.8 billion for the current 2009-2011 biennium. That figure is about a $130 million reduction, or 6.7 percent, from the previous two-year period, DOC spokesman Chad Lewis told the Seattle Times in October.

Although the report's authors said closure of the main institution was their top recommendation, they said that was on the condition that $41 million in capital funding is appropriated to build a medium-security unit and a close-custody unit at the penitentiary and expand the kitchen in the new west complex to compensate for closure of the main institution's kitchen facilities.

If the capital dollars are not available to make the improvements, the consultants recommended downsizing McNeil Island accompanied by a six-year closure of half the Larch Corrections facility.

The closure of the Ahtanum facility would require the 100 elderly and medically fragile inmates there to be transferred to a minimum-security unit at the Monroe Corrections Complex, the study said.

OFM Deputy Communications Director Kate Lykins Brown emphasized that what was released Wednesday is only the first draft of the study and the final recommendations will depend on data which will be included in the final report that is due out on the first of November.

"We don't have all the data," she said Wednesday. "When the final report is ready, we'll have the data so we'll be better able to see whether the data support the recommendations."

Comments on the draft report made by made through the OFM's Web site through Oct. 21, Lykins Brown said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.


About the study

The study was authorized by House Bill 1244 which was approved in the last session of the Legislature. It ordered the Office of Financial Management to study "the feasibility of closing state institutional facilities and a plan on eliminating beds in those facilities."

Legislators appropriated $500,000 to contract with a consultant to do the study. The firm Christopher Murray amp; Associates of Olympia was hired for $462,991 with the remaining funds held in reserve for expenses such as overhead and travel, said Kate Lykins Brown, OFM deputy communications director.

According to the legislation, the study shall provide a recommendation and plan to eliminate 1,580 beds in Department of Corrections facilities. The closures are intended to help state lawmakers find $12 million in budget savings which are part of $120 million in cuts that were made to the state prison system's overall $1.8 million two-year budget.

The study will also make recommendations on how to cut 235 beds from the Department of Social and Health Services' Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration and 250 beds in the Division of Disabilities programs.

The draft report was due Oct. 1, but was delayed until Wednesday. The final report is due Nov. 1.

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