State prisons director to retire

Dick Morgan, a Walla Walla native, is responsible for all of the state's prisons.

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OLYMPIA -- This time it's for real, Dick Morgan said today.

Morgan, a Walla Walla native who has been director of prisons since May 2008, said he plans to retire at the end of this month. He said he has talked to Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail about his replacement, but no decision has been made.

Morgan had been planning to retire in 2006 after more than four years as superintendent of Washington State Penitentiary. But he deferred that decision to accept a position as an assistant deputy secretary under Harold W. Clarke, who was then secretary of corrections. In that position, he supervised administration of prisons on the west side of the state with the exception of the Monroe Correctional Complex.

When he was named as assistant secretary for prisons by Vail, Morgan became responsible for operations in the state's 15 prisons.

Morgan said his biggest challenge "was almost immediately after getting into this chair. That's when the great recession hit."

Administrators were faced with dropping numbers of inmates while at the same time the department was training correctional officers to fill vacancies that suddenly weren't materializing, including positions for the new Washington State Penitentiary west complex.

"We had been aggressively hiring to fill these vacancies," Morgan said. Then "the week of Christmas in 2009, I had to write 21 letters saying 'Sorry, we don't have jobs for you. We'll hire you as soon as something opens up.'"

The situation appears to be stabilizing, Morgan said, but with budget deficits predicted to continue, the department will continue to face challenges.

Morgan is a third-generation corrections employee whose grandfather, Thomas Morgan, held the position of turnkey, similar to what was called a guard at the penitentiary in the 1930s. His late father, Richard, retired as a correctional officer in 1972, the year Dick Morgan graduated from Walla Walla High School.

Despite assuring his father that he intended to become an attorney, Morgan returned to Walla Walla in 1975 after a three years of college and, faced with being unemployed, reluctantly applied for a prison officer position.

"I didn't want the job, but I got it," Morgan said in a 2002 interview. "It was pretty scary, but it was also pretty fun."

He soon found himself in leadership roles trying to quell assaults and riots during the end of a turbulent decade at the prison. He was promoted to sergeant in 1978, became a lieutenant in 1981 and made captain in 1984. He also found time to complete his formal education and received a bachelor's degree in 1996 from Eastern Washington University.

In 1998, he was appointed superintendent at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, about 50 miles west of Port Angeles. He came back to Walla Walla in December 2001 to take over as superintendent of the penitentiary.

Unlike a certain NFL quarterback who gained notoriety for announcing his retirement and then reversing course, Morgan said his only plans now consist of coming home.

"All of my family lives in Walla Walla. As I've been telling my staff, I'm going to sit on my lawn and yell at kids to get off it."

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