June 3, 2009 in City

Prison to shrink by half

State sending female inmates to West Side facilities
Richard Roesler richr@spokesman.com, (360) 664-2598
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

The Spokesman-Review Inmates walk toward the residence building Tuesday on the campus of the minimum-security Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – Citing a smaller population of female prisoners, state corrections officials plan to shutter one of two units at Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, the only women’s prison east of the Cascades.

The 359-woman prison in Medical Lake will shrink to 187 inmates. The rest will be transferred to West Side facilities.

About 30 of Pine Lodge’s roughly 100 staffers will lose their current jobs, the Department of Corrections said, but officials will try to find new jobs for them in the state prison system.

Prison officials said earlier this year they would close the entire prison and transfer all its inmates to a site near Vancouver, Wash. Closing Pine Lodge would save $14 million over two years, they said at the time. But that plan was shelved in favor of a statewide study – due late this year – to determine which prison to close.

Corrections spokeswoman Maria Peterson said Tuesday the unit closure at Pine Lodge is not a preface to closure of the entire facility.

“The plan right now is to run it at about 200 female offenders,” Peterson said.

The Department of Corrections also is delaying plans to open a 256-bed medium-security block of cells at Connell’s Coyote Ridge prison this month.

“We simply don’t have enough offenders to operate these units at full capacity,” prisons director Dick Morgan said.

The number of prisoners statewide has shrunk over the past two years, and state forecasters say that trend will continue. The number of female prisoners has dropped by 80 over the past two years. Recent changes in the law, including sentencing reforms, are expected to pare the numbers further.

In February, the state closed two units at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and one at a minimum-security camp at Coyote Ridge. A 48-bed unit closed at the state’s McNeil Island prison last fall.

“This is something that’s been happening across the state,” Peterson said.

She said that the number of prisoners at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, near Gig Harbor, has dropped, creating plenty of empty beds there. Considering the many requests from offenders to transfer there for classes or to be closer to family, she said, it made sense to close half of Pine Lodge.

Earlier this year, the proposal to close the prison upset workers there, who said the facility is critical for local jobs and allows Eastern Washington women be close to families. Some of that anger was echoed Tuesday in a call from a Pine Lodge worker, who didn’t give her name.

“I just think it’s a travesty for Eastern Washington,” she said, to be housing most female prisoners on the state’s West Side. “It’s pretty darned hard to cross the Cascades in the winter.”

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