State officials can’t wait for Second Chance to put its Cornelius House in order.
Sunday, the Washington Department of Corrections will move the nonprofit organization’s 41 work-release prisoners to Geiger Corrections Center, run by Spokane County.
The move suspends the state’s long-standing contract with Second Chance to run Cornelius House, 1215 W. Mallon.
The Cornelius House director, caught between an unsafe old building and a disputed new building, began laying off nearly 20 employees Friday afternoon.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my corrections career,” said director Bruce Kuennen.
“But it’s a pretty deep cut when you lose an $850,000-a-year contract.”
The temporary contract suspension comes three weeks after the aging Cornelius House was declared structurally unsafe by state building inspectors.
Overnight, Second Chance staff, DOC supervisors and 59 offenders moved to Pine Lodge Pre-release in Medical Lake.
Offenders slept 18 to a room on cots above the gym. Staff had to drive offenders more than 17 miles one-way to their bus routes and jobs.
“Pine Lodge is a custodial and treatment facility and running a work release there caused some challenges,” said Cyrus McLean, the community corrections supervisor for the DOC. “We got through it but it wasn’t anything we wanted to do long term.”
Since 1988, Cornelius House has allowed low-risk inmates to finish the last three to six months of a criminal sentence in a supervised setting. Inmates must hold jobs, pay room and board, and undergo frequent blood and alcohol tests.
No offender lost his job in the three weeks at Pine Lodge.
But, Kuennen estimated that twice as many prisoners as usual were sent back to prison for infractions from Pine Lodge as would have been sent in the same period from Cornelius House. Between normal releases and infractions, the population dropped from 59 to 41.
The program also dwindled because no new applicants were being accepted.
“We had to get some stability into the program and Pine Lodge was not the answer,” said Jack Kopp, DOC community corrections section administrator.
A frustrated Cornelius House staff says it has the answer: the Brownstone building in Meanwhile, Geiger is ready to accept up to 61 work release inmates because a number of federal prisoners left this year, said administrator Mike Pannek.
Geiger, a minimum- and low-security facility on the West Plains, houses 373 men and women and operates a work release program for about 78 offenders.
The state offenders will live four to a room at the county facility and will be able to catch Spokane Transit Authority buses to work.
Kuennen is hopeful the Federal Bureau of Prisons will move its inmates to the Brownstone next week despite the disputed permit. Laid-off employees are being offered a small number of jobs at Eleanor Chase House, the Second Chance boot camp at Connell or one of the agency’s centers on the West Side. But they were also being told the situation is likely temporary.
State officials agreed.
“If they weren’t doing reasonably well, we wouldn’t still have them as a contractor,” said Savage. “They have been a good contractor for us.”
“We don’t expect we’ll be at Geiger forever,” McLean said. “The contract is being suspended, not terminated.”