Penitentiary unit to reopen

The move, which is being made to relieve overcrowding in the state system, will mean at least 20 jobs created, the superintendent said.

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WALLA WALLA -- A closed unit at the Washington State Penitentiary will be reopened to help relieve overcrowding in the state prison system.

Unit 5 in the Main Institution is scheduled to open in July, said Superintendent Steve Sinclair. The facility will house minimum-security inmates, which the entire Main Institution was converted to hold at the start of this year.

Sinclair said today in an email that in regard to staffing, "there are still a few things we will need to work out, not the least of which is negotiations with labor." But, he said, "I can safely/conservatively say there will be more than 20 new positions created to open the unit."

When the unit was closed in 2009, it accommodated 254 beds. The possibility of it being reopened was aired in March as Department of Corrections officials worked to find ways to deal with overcrowding in the prison system and deal with a projected need for 160 additional beds this summer.

Shari Hall, prison spokeswoman, said at that time that reopening Unit 5 will not require any major repair work. When the unit was shut down, it was a "soft closure," meaning utilities are still connected and ready to be turned back on.

Work that will need to be done to reopen the unit will include upgrading the fire alarm system and modifications to the correctional officers' stations.

In an interview with The Seattle Times in March, Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said the expected increase in prison population follows a revision earlier this year in the projected number of inmates coming into the system.

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