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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington to ship more prison inmates out of state

Associated Press

SEATTLE – The state is preparing to transfer up to 300 more inmates to out-of-state facilities in an effort to ease chronic overcrowding in Washington prisons.

The state’s adult prison population stands at 17,600, and the system is overcrowded by about 1,400 inmates. The state Department of Corrections already has 525 inmates in prisons in Minnesota, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona in an effort to relieve the crush.

But with more expected, inmates will be shipped out within two months to one of 64 prisons run by the nation’s largest private jailer. Corrections Corporation of America in Nashville, Tenn., already holds 290 Washington inmates.

The Legislature approved construction of another prison and updates for two others to add nearly 2,400 beds, but that work won’t be completed until 2008.

“We don’t have beds in state to house these offenders, and we have to put them in beds,” said Anne Fiala, a senior Corrections administrator in Olympia. “The only option we have is to put them in beds in other states. But it’s never been an option the Department of Corrections preferred.”

Before the move, Corrections will screen inmates statewide. Most likely moved will be those with few health problems and little history of misconduct. Prisoners with frequent family visits would be last to go, according to screening criteria.

Last month, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a state construction budget that includes a new 1,290-bed state prison in Franklin County. The $179 million complex is the first new prison since the 1,930-bed Stafford Creek near Aberdeen was opened in 2000.

The Walla Walla prison also is being expanded by nearly 900 beds and being converted into a solely maximum-security facility, and 200 more beds are being added at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

When construction is complete, all Washington prisoners will be returned to the state.

In the late 1980s, Washington prisons were so under capacity that the state imported nearly 2,000 prisoners.

But corrections officials have had few options to house prisoners in the last two years when roughly 2,100 new inmates were sent to Washington’s major prisons but only 45 new beds were added.

To lighten the load, 240 inmates went to Nevada state prisons in 2003. A year later, the state appealed to the Nashville company for help, sending staff along with hundreds of inmates to act as contract monitors. The cost to taxpayers is about $62 a day per inmate, slightly higher than the $55 per day for in-state prisons.

The transfer policy has not been well received by state lawmakers.

State Rep. Jeannie Darneille, vice chairwoman of the House corrections committee, worries that the state loses control of the prisoners if they’re in private-sector prisons.

“I just don’t have a lot of trust for the privately run prisons,” said Darneille, D-Tacoma. “It is done without public knowledge or debate. We give up our control to a privately run institution that sets parameters.”

Washington inmates at a CCA-run facility in Onley Springs, Colo., last year started the largest prison riot in that state’s history when they attempted to present a list of grievances to the warden.

More than a dozen inmates were injured and damage was estimated at $1 million.

The instigators were later shipped to the company’s prison in Appleton, Minn. Eight Washington inmates face criminal charges from the riot.

A Colorado Department of Corrections investigation faulted the company for being understaffed and for poorly training employees. It also criticized the prison being built with materials such as porcelain sinks, which could be used as weapons.