April 21, 2012 in City

Officials say Geiger to close

Staff informed in email; sheriff says no date set
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office will close the Geiger Corrections Center because of a decision by the city of Spokane to move inmates to another county, officials said late Friday.

Sgt. John McGrath, Spokane County Jail commander, wrote in an email to staff Friday that the move to close Geiger comes as the city of Spokane prepares to send some of its inmates to Benton County because it costs less to incarcerate them there. Doing so will cost the county $2 million, McGrath wrote, and the “only viable option to overcome this additional debt is to close Geiger Corrections.”

City Council members say the agreement has not yet been finalized.

The email was obtained by several Spokane media outlets late Friday. The contents of the letter were later confirmed by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

The city of Spokane has written its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in June, to include the transfer to Benton County. County labor negotiations for the next fiscal year must take into account the looming $2 million shortfall, Knezovich said.

“It’s roughly $600,000 in savings to them,” Knezovich said. “In these economic times, I can fully understand.”

Knezovich said he does not yet know when Geiger will close. He said city officials are willing to work with the county to hold off on the Benton County transfer until a transition plan is finalized for Geiger.

About 80 people work at Geiger, which houses about 195 inmates. Sheriff’s officials are looking for ways to move those employees to other positions in the Sheriff’s Office.

Knezovich said the closure will mean more overcrowding at the county’s main jail in Spokane and more inmates being booked and released.

County officials have long questioned the safety of Geiger, which was converted from military housing built in 1959 and is used by Spokane County for a mix of nonviolent inmates, including those awaiting trial.

The escape of two inmates from the facility in January sparked discussion about the need for replacing it. Officials say the building is not meant to make people stay inside.

Last year, county commissioners postponed a proposal to build a new jail facility near Geiger so officials could continue looking for ways to make it more palatable to voters. That proposal was part of a $199 million upgrade of county corrections facilities that also included a separate community corrections center and restoration of the Spokane County Jail back to its original number of beds.

Knezovich said the building is costly to maintain, which translates to a high cost of housing inmates.

In the email, McGrath called Geiger “the best facility I’ve ever worked in.”

“It is the best facility because it has something far more important than a good design, or the best technology or even new construction,” McGrath said. “Geiger has a great heart, and that heart comes from the men and women who work there. You are all highly dedicated, compassionate professionals.”


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