OLYMPIA – Last year, the Legislature spent $500,000 for a consultant to tell Washington state which prisons should close and which should stay open.
The consultant released his study in November, and the Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake wasn’t on the list. Instead, he recommended it stay open to handle female prisoners on the east side of the state.
That has some legislators balking at Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plan to close Pine Lodge and move its inmates to a women’s facility in Western Washington to help fill a $2.6 billion hole in the state’s budget.
“I’m willing to do it if it makes good economic sense. But the numbers just don’t add up,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, whose district includes the Medical Lake facility.
State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, contended last week that closing Pine Lodge was an effort to save jobs in Western Washington: “I can’t see a financial reason to do it. It looks political to me.”
But a spokeswoman for Gregoire said the closures are strictly financial, not political. “There are a lot of communities that certainly don’t want to see facilities in their area close,” spokeswoman Karina Shagren said. “Because of the economy, the state has to close some institutions.”
Pine Lodge was among five correctional facilities on a list first announced in December, but the only one the consultant didn’t recommend closing. The study recommended operating Pine Lodge at its current level of about 187 inmates. The state could expect to need more minimum-security beds for women inmates, the study said, and additional capacity is available at Pine Lodge, which closed a unit with 242 beds earlier in the year.
“At its current level of operation, Pine Lodge is appropriately sized to house minimum security women from Eastern Washington,” the report said. “This reduced size improves opportunities for maintaining family and community ties – an important consideration for all offenders but especially for female offenders with children.”
Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail announced late last month the Pine Lodge closure was temporarily on hold, but not because the state might need more prison beds. Rather, the state wanted to give the city of Spokane and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich time to study taking over the facility for city or county prisoners.
Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said the state keeps getting shifting projections on prison population. That’s one reason the state paid $500,000 for the study.
The language authorizing the study also says “the governor and the Legislature shall not consider closure of any state institutional facility unless the report recommended the facility for closure.”
That won’t keep the Corrections Department from closing Pine Lodge, said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “They have the ability to close a facility unless the Legislature precludes it.”
Brown wouldn’t say last week if that’s the step the Legislature would ultimately take. But she said she is looking at ways to address Pine Lodge with state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, whose district also includes Medical Lake and who serves as the Senate GOP floor leader.