October 1, 2010 in Region

Larch Corrections Center to close amid prison cuts

Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
 

The Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt will be closed next Feb. 1, and the state Department of Corrections will cut 299 jobs as it seeks to make $53 million in budget cuts, agency Secretary Eldon Vail said today.

The minimum security prison has 240 inmates, and most will be transferred to the McNeil Island Corrections Center, Vail said. No early releases of inmates are planned, he said.

Today was the deadline for state agencies to announce how they would deal with spending cuts of 6.3 percent. The Corrections Department also will not fill 118 vacant positions. Major prisons will have one-day lockdowns each month to reduce overtime costs. Drug treatment programs will be reduced in prisons.

“These will not make the community less safe,” Vail said.

Prison employees who are members of the Teamsters Union said today they will sue the state over the cuts. Teamsters Local Union 117 also announced that prison employees overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal that froze wages and increased health care costs.

“Our members work side-by-side with some of society’s most dangerous criminals,” said Teamsters Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer Tracey A. Thompson. “We will not stand idly by and allow the state to dismantle protections that help keep them safe.”

Because of slumping revenues, Gov. Chris Gregoire recently ordered spending cuts of 6.3 percent at all general-fund state agencies. For the Department of Corrections, that meant nearly $53 million between now and June 30, 2011.

Vail said they are still $1.4 million short of the required cuts, but can’t reach the goal without increasing risk to staff, inmates and the public. Vail said the agency needs more time to reach the target, and may ask the Legislature for budget help.

Among the major changes, major prisons will have one-day lockdowns each month to reduce overtime costs and provide time for staff training. That spreads some of the budget pain onto inmates, who will be held in their cells that day, Vail said.

There will also be unpaid furloughs for more staff. Electronic home monitoring will be eliminated except for sex offenders and a few others.

Drug treatment and education programs will be reduced in the 12 remaining prisons; there will be only one recreation leader per prison; and guards will be removed from the kitchen in medium-security prisons, although one sergeant will remain. Vail said those were the cuts that troubled him the most in terms of potential for trouble.

Other agencies also announced cuts.

The state’s community and technical colleges, which served a record 161,000 full-time-equivalent students last academic year, are absorbing a loss of $167 million per year.

“Increased enrollments during times of economic downturn are not a new phenomenon for community and technical colleges,” said Charlie Earl, head of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “But the record budget cuts alongside record enrollments for two years running is unprecedented.”

Earlier this week, the state Department of Social and Health Services said it will slash nearly $281 million from its budget. DSHS said it will eliminate 30 inpatient beds at Western State Hospital, reduce services for mentally ill clients and reduce payments to nursing homes. It will eliminate 380 jobs by June 30.

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