January 22, 2009 in Washington Voices

Plans to close Pine Lodge facility may be ‘premature,’ state official says

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women may not close next year as previously announced by the Department of Corrections.

Superintendent Walker Morton of the facility reassured the Medical Lake City Council as well as many of the facility’s employees who attended the council meeting intending to rally support to keep the center open.

“It has been reported that this is part of the governor’s budget plan to reduce spending due to the revenue shortfall,” Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, said in an e-mail to Morton. “Based on the questions raised by Pine Lodge Superintendent Morton Walker (sic) and his staff, we have decided and are announcing that our previous decision to close Pine Lodge was premature.”

The e-mail went on to explain that the state will undertake a cost/benefit study before any final decision is made and the number of inmates the DOC may be required to house may change as well.

Morton told the council that the Legislature may reduce prison populations by not incarcerating offenders on certain crimes.

“We’re not sure where it’s going to land,” Morton said.

The study will not be underway until August and Morton doesn’t expect it to be completed until the end of 2009. But he cautioned the council “Pine Lodge isn’t clearly off the board.”

Pine Lodge has 400 beds and employs around 140 people – many residents of Medical Lake. It is the state’s only women’s prison east of the Cascades.

One of those employees, Marye Jorgenson, spoke to the council before Morton broke the news. She explained that Pine Lodge is part of the community of Medical Lake – the food bank benefits from the garden the inmates grow every year and the inmates also make items, such as quilts, to be sold at auction to benefit Friends for Children.

She asked the council to support Pine Lodge by writing to legislators.

Mayor John Higgins agreed and said he had been in contact with Dick Morgan, director of the state DOC’s prisons division, to express the concern he had over the closure of the facility.

“If we need to do something more as a council we can do that,” Higgins said.

After it was announced that Pine Lodge might stay open, the council agreed that the DOC should keep the city informed and involved when something like this is announced.

“They do need to be reminded that their facility is located in Medical Lake,” said Doug Ross, city administrator. Ross added that the city’s recycling center is employed by a crew of four inmates from Pine Lodge who work seven hours a day, five days a week. The loss of the facility would be a loss to many programs in the city.

“They do an excellent job,” Ross said.

The next Medical Lake city council meeting will be held Feb. 3.

Contact staff writer Lisa Leinberger at 459-5449 or by e-mail at lisal@spokesman.com.

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