OLYMPIA – Washington state’s corrections department has been shuttling prisoners back to the state on airplanes routinely used by Gov. Jay Inslee. The King Air trips have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, according to an investigation by the News Tribune.
Records show the state used its two State Patrol planes nine times to transport 14 inmates from January 2013 to September 2016, the newspaper reported Sunday.
Some of the trips were to move problematic prisoners to out-of-state facilities, while other flights were dedicated to picking up probation violators who left the state.
The most expensive King Air flight was in 2014, when the state paid $34,000 to bring two probation violators back to Washington from Florida.
The planes are used by prisoners who have been deemed high risk by corrections officials.
David Flynn, who oversees the prisoner flight program, acknowledged that using King Air is “more expensive for us” but said the State Patrol planes are a crucial safety tool.
Many of the inmates have several mental health issues and transporting them on commercial flights would pose a danger to other passengers, Flynn said. Traveling by car for long distances with dangerous inmates would be a “logistical nightmare” for maintaining safety, he added.
Officers have never had to use force against an inmate on board a King Air flight, Flynn said, and there have been no significant incidents or escapes.
Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the King Air trips only represent a fraction of total prisoner transports. The state completes about 225 transports on commercial flights a year, he said. The majority of those also are probation violators.
Although the flights are expensive, Barclay said, “public safety is worth more than saying we don’t want to spend however much it is.”
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