WALLA WALLA -- A major change at Washington State Penitentiary that started this year will soon take another step forward when the now-closed Unit 5 reopens in July.
It will increase the minimum-security population from some 700 beds to about 945 beds, making it one of the state's biggest minimum-security facilities. All those inmates will be in the prison's East Complex.
The reopening of the unit will be a welcome boost to the area's economy, as it will require adding at least 20 correctional officers along with other positions such as counselors, clerical staff and maintenance workers.
Hiring is expected to take another boost next year when a new 512-bed, medium-security facility now under construction in the prison's West Complex is finished.
That is expected to require about 130 additional positions, said Superintendent Steve Sinclair.
The conversion of the East Complex from medium-security to minimum-security started in January.
Prior to its closing in 2009, Unit 5 housed inmates with mental health problems and those who needed protective custody. The unit was emptied in a "soft closure," meaning utilities were kept connected, making its restart and conversion to house minimum-security offenders relatively simple.