Work-release inmates can move into a downtown Spokane building despite heated opposition from neighbors, a judge decided Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Neal Q. Rielly ruled that a planned work-release center at Third and Browne doesn’t violate state law or city zoning ordinances.
The ruling means inmates could move into the refurbished Brownstone building as soon as this weekend, said its Spokane director, Bruce Kuennen.
The center will be operated by Second Chance, a private company that runs several correctional centers in Washington state.
The Brownstone, a brick structure, can house up to 84 inmates, Kuennen said.
The building recently was remodeled by owner Mick McDowell. For years, its major tenant was the Gold Coin Market. The building has sat vacant in recent months.
Neighbors, including a Christian school, a florist shop and an antique dealer, have opposed the inmate center, saying it will create safety risks for residents and children in the area.
They hired an attorney to challenge a city ruling that permitted the Brownstone as an approved residential group home.
In its original plan, Second Chance wanted to place 120 residents into the Brownstone. When it approached the city last fall, Second Chance lowered its goal to 84 beds.
On Tuesday, opponents vowed to take their fight to Olympia where they’ll ask legislators to reconsider the risk of having prisoners near schools and elderly downtown residents.
“We’re going to inundate our legislators with letters opposing this action,” said Patty Marinos, a spokeswoman for opponents of the work-release center.
Kuennen said it’s not clear when the first inmates will move into the Brownstone.
He said Second Chance must first complete negotiations for payments with federal and state corrections agencies, which plan to place inmates in the Brownstone.
The center’s residents will include many of the 70-some inmates who had to move from Cornelius House, a work-release center run by Second Chance that was closed in October.
State safety engineers ordered Cornelius House closed after they found major structural weaknesses in the building on West Mallon near the county courthouse.
Kuennen said the Brownstone’s residents will be low-risk inmates who all must hold jobs as they conclude the final months of their prison terms.
Kuennen said its operation will be consistent with state and federal guidelines that require regular substance abuse tests and ongoing counseling for inmates.
Marinos is the manager of Dynamic Christian Academy, about two blocks from the Brownstone, where 110 students from preschool to 10th grade are enrolled.
“We don’t want people to think we believe these men can’t be rehabilitated,” Marinos said.
“But we feel that this building, with its proximity to kids and schools, creates a serious risk.”
She pointed to a string of problems in recent months connected to centers operated by Second Chance on the West Side.
In particular, a 17-year-old boy accused of killing a Stanwood, Wash., baby sitter this fall walked away from Larch Way Lodge, a Second Chance facility near Lynnwood, Wash.
“We’re convinced their track record is so bad that the state needs to look at how they operate their centers,” Marinos said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of new site of work-release center