State delays closure of prison to consider arrangement
Washington state will delay plans to close the Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women to see whether it can be shared with Spokane County and the city of Spokane.
State Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail announced Thursday the Medical Lake center is getting a temporary reprieve from a list of institutions the state wants to close because of its budget problems.
In her most recent budget proposal, Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this month put Pine Lodge on a list of 10 institutions to close.
In a prepared statement, Vail said he’d received a letter from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner about a “joint use” of Pine Lodge. “We need adequate time to seriously consider what might be developed,” he said.
County commissioners weren’t aware of Vail’s decision when they met in special session Thursday afternoon to approve a letter to state officials expressing interest in Pine Lodge.
The letter outlines the county’s need to replace Geiger Corrections Center and the difficulties of doing so in “this economic downturn of historic proportion.”
While the letter invites discussion of a wide range of possibilities, sheriff’s Capt. John McGrath and Lt. Mike Sparber told commissioners Thursday that they would like to have the entire 350-bed state prison for county use.
“We could fill it up today,” jail commander McGrath told commissioners.
He said the Geiger Corrections Center, which the county must vacate by 2013, currently houses 350 inmates.
Commissioner Mark Richard said the county’s goal is to acquire the prison and surrounding property at little or no cost.
After learning of Vail’s announcement, Richard said he was “very encouraged” by the state’s willingness to cooperate with local officials.
“We’re at such a critical point that we need to be looking at all options,” Richard said. There may not be a solution that satisfies everyone, he said, “but it all starts with a dialogue.”
Commissioner Bonnie Mager was sympathetic to the idea of keeping female state prisoners at Pine Lodge, closer to their homes and families. But she acknowledged the difficulty of sharing beds when there are barely enough to meet the county’s needs.
“Certainly, I think, we will entertain any conversation they would like to have with us,” Mager said after learning state officials plan to keep using the prison.
Knezovich said in an interview that he and Verner have discussed using the facility as part of joint county and city community corrections operation that would include programs for electronic home monitoring of certain inmates.
He and Verner sent a letter to Gregoire Wednesday that said “the proposed closure of this facility may provide opportunities for joint use.”
Like the commissioners’ letter, the Verner-Knezovich letter is basically a request for open-ended discussions with state officials.
Folding Pine Lodge into the county’s jail system could shave as much as $20 million off current expansion plans, Knezovich said.
Right now, different designs have price tags between $229 million and $266 million for a 462-bed jail.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she’d had discussions with Gregoire and the corrections department about keeping Pine Lodge open.
“This is a good move if there’s a potential to use part of the facility for city and county needs,” she said Thursday.
The county was considering 10 possible sites for the jail complex, but after Pine Lodge was put on the governor’s closure list, it became an unofficial 11th site. City and county officials will be touring the facility next week, Knezovich said.
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