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Warner named Corrections Secretary

OLYMPIA  — Bernie Warner spent less than a week as Washington's acting Secretary of Corrections.

Today Gov. Chris Gregoire took the “acting” out of the title and named him as her choice to to be the permanent replacement for Eldon Vail, who resigned last Friday as he faced the prospect that an affair he was having with a subordinate was going to become public.

Gregoire's office announced she had appointed Warner to the job with a salary of $147,000, the same salary Vail has been making. His appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, but that won't happen before the Legislature returns to a session. Unless there's another special session this year, the Legislature isn't scheduled to meet until January.

Warner sent a memo to Department of Corrections employees, say his goal was “to provide you with the high level of leadership you deserve.”

Vail told The Seattle Times in an interview that he resigned because he believed an affair he was having with a subordinate would be made public by someone who may have videotaped them leaving an Olympia motel. He said he took full responsibility for his actions, and is working on saving his marriage. The subordinate continues to work for the department.

A spokeswoman for Gregoire said the governor was not calling for an investigation “at this point” because Vail has resigned.

Corrections chief Eldon Vail quits

OLYMPIA — Secretary of Corrections Eldon Vail quit this afternoon citing “personal reasons.” Gov. Chris Gregoire who reportedly learned about his decision just today, quickly named a temporary replacement.

A brief statement from the Department of Corrections said his resignation was “effective immediately” but didn't give further information about his reasons for leaving. A call to the department was referred to a spokesman who did not immediately return the call.

A spokeswoman for Gregoire said she had no additional information about Vail's reason for resigning. Asked if Gregoire was surprised by the announcement, she replied “it's fair to say she learned about it today.”

Gregoire named Prisons Director Bernie Warner as Vail's interim replacement about 20 minutes after Vail's announcement. Warner played a key role in the prison system's expansion in the 1990s, she said, leading the siting process for Airway Heights Corrections Center and two other facilites. He has worked in California, Arizona and Florida and returned last October to serve as the department's prisons director.

Special Session Day 3: Early release a bad idea, prison officials say

OLYMPIA – A legislative proposal to release some inmates a few months early as a budget-saving measure is a bad idea, prison officials warned Thursday.
The state already ordered early release for many non-violent, low-risk inmates in previous years as a way to help balance other budgets. Those still behind bars are some of the highest risk prisoners who were convicted of violent or sexual crimes, suffer from mental illness or have a high possibility of committing new crimes, Corrections Director Eldon Vail said.
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Assault suspect avoids officer gunfire

A state probation officer nearly shot a Spokane woman last week after she tried running him over in an SUV to avoid arrest, according to police.

 Judith M. Freese, 53, faces a first-degree assault charge for a confrontation with Department of Corrections Officer James Hathaway that Hathaway said made him fear for his life.

Hathaway said he and DOC Officer Anita Jones were about to arrest Freese on a probation violation for a drug conviction Dec. 15 when she fled the DOC office at 1717 W. Broadway and started her Ford Explorer.

She ignored commands to stop the SUV and instead accelerated toward Hathaway, who fell back and tried to draw his firearm when he regained his balance, police said.

Hathaway said he didn’t shoot Freese because Jones was in his crossfire, according to a police report.

The driver’s side mirror of Freese’s SUV struck Hathaway as she sped away, according to police. Police found the SUV the next day at Freese’s brother’s home.

She was booked into jail Friday night and remains in jail on $75,000 bond and a probation hold after appearing Monday in Superior Court.

Only women’s prison in E. WA to shrink by half….

I had this story in the print paper today:

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.