Opening of Thurston County’s new jail pushed back – again

ckrotzer@theolympian.comMay 15, 2013 

The opening of Thurston County’s new $43.5 million jail will be delayed again due to hiring and technological delays.

The Accountability and Restitution Center was scheduled to open July 1 – an already delayed date from the original early 2012 deadline. Construction on the 100,000 square-foot facility was completed in 2011.

“It’s going to be a matter of no more than a couple months,” Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin said Tuesday. “There are several things going on that just aren’t ready to go.”

Members of the new jail task force met for their bi-monthly meeting Thursday and learned the recruiting process was not on target for the July deadline.

The new jail requires additional corrections officers, positions that have yet to be filled. The county budgeted for 20 new hires, increasing the jail staff to 125 positions for 2013.

The correction staff is down 11 positions overall due to the new hires, attrition and retirement.

Getting qualified applicants is the hardest part.

“Our washout rate is fairly significant trying to find qualified applicants,” Elwin said. “We get a lot of applicants who fail the background or the tests, some sort of the hiring process.”

The Sheriff’s Office tries to attract as many corrections officers from other facilities, or lateral hires, as they can to cut down on training.

Entry level applicants have to go through four weeks of corrections officer academy training before they can be put in the field.

“The main thing is making sure we have staff ready to go,” said County Manager Don Krupp. “We don’t want to create a situation where we are opening a facility that is not properly staffed, is not safe for the officers and inmates and the other workers in the jail to be able to properly carry out their job.”

Of the applicants so far, three have been laterals, with 36 entry-level applicants. Of those 36, four are going through the process, including background checks, a polygraph, psychological evaluation and medical exam. The entire process can take more than six weeks.

“We have very, very high hiring standards,” Elwin said. “It pays off for us because we are able to hire and retain good quality people, but on the front end, when you are trying to apply these standards to everyone on the list, you end up washing a lot of them out.”

Elwin said even if they had the required staff, the jail still wouldn’t be opening July 1.

“Some of the other aspects of the ARC that aren’t in place are video court stuff that isn’t done and ready yet, and our e-documents and procedures and the ability to be able to transfer all our e-docs aren’t quite ready,” Elwin said.

Many of the systems have been installed, such as monitors in the courtrooms. Krupp said staff is working on system trial runs.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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