About 40 jobs related to operations on McNeil Island are shifting from the Department of Social and Health Services to the Department of Corrections on Sept. 1. The shift is being done in part to bring back maintenance of the landscape that had fallen off during the recent rounds of budget cuts that also led to closure of the state prison on the island in 2011.
Under the changes, stewardship of the island goes to Corrections, which is taking over such responsibilities on the island as ferry operations while DSHS retains management of the dock. The two agencies are continuing to work out an interagency agreement to clarify the changes, and about 40 offenders enrolled in Corrections Industries programs will be added to work in maintenance, sewer, and marine dry dock jobs alongside the DOC civilians.
The realignment of staff was ordered on page 74 of the fine print of the budget that lawmakers approved in late June, which came just three days before a government shutdown.
Danielle Armbruster, assistant director of DOC’s Correctional Industries division, said a total of 41 full-time equivalent civilian positions are being transferred. These include 36 already-filled positions and five vacancies that DOC will be hiring for – all separate from the offender labor force. She said the idea for using offenders came from Democratic state Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, a budget writer with a background in corrections reform.
“The goal is – by hiring the offender workers with CI – to bring the island into compliance with the deed” requirements for maintenance, Armbruster said. “So having those extra bodies on the island (lets the state) work on noxious weeds and fire barriers are things we haven’t had the resources to do in the past. So we’re going to have 40 offender workers out there. Those 40 offender workers will not displace any civilian workers.”
She said the 40 CI-supervised offenders would come from CedarCreekCorrectionsCenter in Thurston County, and they would be screened so no sex offenders would be used.
Correctional Industries is involved because it already runs businesses inside prisons and also manages off-site offender work crews. Armbruster said workers’ duties will be tied to standardized occupational codes and offenders would earn certifications to show their experience to employers on the outside– as well as learning useful skills and a work ethic. The participants also are in Making It Work classes that teach personal skills for getting employment.
Some offenders will work in the marine department’s dry-dock getting skills with tools and carpentry.
In the big picture, DOC is assuming responsibility for water, sewer and roads, maintenance outside the Special Commitment Center and the adjacent secure transition facility. Both facilities are run by DSHS to hold and treat sex offenders who are deemed too dangerous without treatment to release from custody after serving prison terms.
DSHS is keeping responsibility for the docks, security, the island fire department, and a small “fast boat” used for medical transports and emergency runs to the mainland at Steilacoom.
DSHS, which had more resources, took over more of the work on the island after the state prison closed in April 2011.
Public use of the island has evolved from its role long ago as a federal prison and later as a state prison that eventually saw the addition of the Special Commitment Center for dangerous sex offenders and also a related secure transition facility for sex offenders preparing for reentry into society.
A long-term future for the island after the prison era has not yet been decided.