The closing of Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women was initially intriguing. The state needs to save money. The county and city might be able to use the site for a new jail.
Upon further review, the plan looks ill-considered.
Pine Lodge is the only facility for women in Eastern Washington. Closing it would mean the inmates would be shipped to the West Side and away from their families. It is the only facility on the closure list that wasn’t recommended for shuttering by a consultant hired by the Legislature.
After Pine Lodge closed a unit, it was left with a capacity of 187 inmates, which the consultant deemed an appropriate size for a minimum-security prison. The consultant also noted the importance of the women maintaining community and family ties, which is critical to reducing the number of repeat offenders. This is especially important for female inmates with children. Uprooting all of those families would be counterproductive.
The mayor of Medical Lake says the facility is important to his town because of the jobs. State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, made a compelling case in Saturday’s guest opinion column for keeping the facility. While the state has excess capacity in the corrections system overall, that is not true for women’s facilities. If Pine Lodge were closed, the two remaining facilities would suddenly be overcrowded. Plus, Pine Lodge has the lowest costs per inmate.
The report states: “Almost all the surplus capacity is at medium security for male inmates.” In addition, “DOC closed minimum security beds for female offenders this summer. There are no additional opportunities to eliminate prison beds for female offenders.”
The other four corrections facilities slated for closure by the governor’s office match the recommendations of the consultant. So why is Pine Lodge on the list? A spokeswoman for the governor cited cost savings but nothing else. But why spend $500,000 for a report on the corrections system and then ignore the findings?
The governor and the Legislature have many tough calls ahead as they try to close a $2.6 billion budget gap. But the state has yet to make a compelling case for why it would be better to close Pine Lodge than other facilities.
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