SPOKANE — Prison inmates will do their part to cut the state’s budget deficit.
The state Department of Corrections will lock down nine state prisons for the day today, trying out a plan to free up some guards to take unpaid furlough days.
Inmates will be restricted to their cells for the day, except for meals. If today’s experiment works, plans call for similar lockdowns for one day a month through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“This is just one of many unprecedented steps we’re taking to reduce spending and help the state overcome a historic budget crisis,” Prisons Director Bernie Warner said.
The number of guards in the cell blocks will not be cut, officials said. But the employees who operate and provide security for education programs, drug treatment and work programs starting in December will stay home for a day to save money, Warner said. Gymnasiums, prison libraries and recreation yards will be closed.
Inmates have been told about the lockdown. Some understand the budget concerns, while others are angry about it, said Deputy Prisons Director Dan Pacholke.
Prison officials declined to estimate until after today’s experiment how much money can be saved.
In September, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered 6 percent across-the-board cuts to state agencies to deal with a $520 million deficit.
One critic questioned whether the lockdowns would save much money.
“That’s a publicity stunt,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, based in Vermont. “It’s their way of trying to scare the public.”
He said the Washington Department of Corrections is well-staffed compared with other states. In 2005, the latest year available, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that Washington had one prison guard for every 4.5 inmates. Only Hawaii (3.2), New Mexico (3.9) and Wyoming (3.8) had lower ratios among Western states.
The prisons in lockdown will be Airway Heights Corrections Center, Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Mission Creek Corrections Center, Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women and Washington State Penitentiary.