Budgets spur statewide prison lockdown

The state's attempt to cut costs includes a once-a-month lockdown statewide, starting today.

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WALLA WALLA -- Washington State Penitentiary was among eight prisons in the state locked down today due to budget cuts.

The statewide lockdown is intended as a dry run for regular one-day lockdowns between now and the end of the budget cycle in June, Department of Corrections officials said.

During the lockdown, prisoners will remain in their cells all day. They will be allowed out for meals but will not be able to attend education classes, participate in treatment programs or go to work assignments.

The number of corrections officers in the cell blocks will not be cut, officials said.

But starting in December employees who operate and provide security for education programs, drug treatment and work programs will stay home for a day to save money. Gyms, libraries and recreation yards will close.

Prisons Director Bernie Warner said today's lockdown will give corrections officials a better sense of how much the department can save with the practice.

The DOC and other state agencies have been ordered to reduce across-the-board spending by 6 percent between now and June 2011. In the case of DOC, that means cutting spending by nearly $53 million.

How many officers and other DOC employees will be affected by the lockdowns will vary from institution to institution, said Dan Pacholke, deputy prisons director. Prison officials will have a better sense of how much money will be saved by the practice when they meet with DOC Superintendent Eldon Vail later this week, he said.

Warner agreed that imposing a one-day lockdown on inmates is a way of "asking the prison inmates to share in the budget pain."

"This isn't just something that affects state employees. It affects the entire operation of all our facilities," he said.

Warner said the lockdown exercise "is just one of many unprecedented steps we're taking to reduce spending and help the state overcome a historic budget crisis."

At present, the DOC has more than 16,000 inmates in its prisons and supervises more than 19,000 people in community corrections.

The state's five minimum-security work camps will not take part in the lockdowns, said Chad Lewis, DOC spokesman.

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

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