Locations near Shelton, Bremerton and Grand Mound emerged Thursday as the three finalists in a state Department of Corrections' search to site a new reception center for newly imprisoned inmates.
The top-ranked site of 15 examined is next door to the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. No. 2 is a site in Kitsap County site near Bremerton that once was proposed for a NASCAR race track.
The soon-to-be-vacated Maple Lane School near Grand Mound in Thurston County ranked third in a selection process that drew 11 submissions with the 15 sites. The finalist sites are to receive a formal environmental impact study, and a final site could be picked by December.
The DOC operates a reception center for incoming inmates at Shelton, but it is full and takes up beds in the prison itself. The department has closed its McNeil Island prison as a cost-cutting move, but it expects growth in inmate populations by 2015. A new reception center frees up potentially 1,200 to 1,500 beds at Shelton to deal with that, Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail told The Olympians editorial board this week.
Vail also said a new reception center is much cheaper than building a new prison, and he sent that message to the Legislature. Lawmakers also are weighing whether to grant early release to anywhere from 100 to 800 nonviolent inmates as a short-term cost savings in the face of the budget crisis.
The reception center is where the state screen inmates to learn their medical, mental health and drug-treatment needs, as well as educational needs, gang affiliation and other characteristics that assist in placing them in the prison system.
If Maple Lane is chosen, the state likely will build new incarceration units next door and use existing buildings for staff operations.
Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County represents the 20th Legislative District and said this week he is not opposed to such a conversion of Maple Lane. But he said the Democrat-controlled Legislature is making the wrong decision by shifting youth inmates out of the facility at Grand Mound and building smaller replacement space at the Green Hill facility in Chehalis.
Alexander said the Democrats plan requires about $16 million in the pending House capital budget proposal for 2011-13.
At this point, the House capital budget does not include funding for the reception facility project, according to Vail. The Senate is expected to outline its plan Tuesday.
Republican Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester, which is not far from the site, has expressed interest in converting Maple Lane School if its closure cannot be blocked.
Vail said some worry that a prison can draw families of the prisoners into a community. But that doesnt happen with a reception center, because inmates are held there for just a couple of months, unless they have medical problems.
The state has talked to Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza about use of the countys new but unused regional corrections facility. But Vail said the facility was built for 358 beds, and he needs one that can hold more than 1,000.