It’s been five years, and it finally happened.
Thurston County’s long-empty Accountability and Restitution Center is vacant no more. The new jail’s cells and dormitories are full of inmates, and the once bustling former Thurston County Jail is empty.
“This is it,” said Sheriff John Snaza. “We’re finally doing it. You wouldn’t believe the work we put into this.”
The $45 million jail was completed in 2010, and since then county officials have been trying to scrape together enough money to fully staff and move into the facility. In January, the Snaza and the county commissioners reached an agreement, with the commissioners promising to add $111,879 to the corrections budget and earmark $280,000 in the general fund to cover moving into and operating the ARC.
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Snaza said many of the ARC’s management — including Corrections Chief Todd Thoma, Lt. Shawn Ball and Cpt. George Eaton — spent Friday night in their new offices in anticipation of the move.
The move officially started Saturday morning. Most of the jail’s inmates, about 350 in total, were loaded onto three state Department of Corrections buses and driven the two-and-a-half miles to the ARC.
Each bus was accompanied by a law enforcement escort, a team of two members of the county’s SWAT team driving an unmarked vehicle. Thoma said the choice to use the unmarked DOC buses and inconspicuous patrol cars was intentional.
“We didn’t want to go full bells and sirens,” Thoma said. “We wanted to fly under the radar.”
In fact, most Thurston County residents weren’t informed of the move. Thoma said people were informed of the plan on a need-to-know basis. Local law enforcement agencies were in the know, as were attorneys and some county employees.
Thoma said the Sheriff’s Office kept quiet about the move for security purposes.
“We have people awaiting trial for homicide, rape and robbery,” Thoma said. “They don’t want to be here, and we don’t want them to think this is their opportunity.”
Jail staff began preparing inmates for the move on Friday night, with corrections deputies searching cells for personal items until about 10:30 p.m. Any potential weapons or other items that could cause problems during the move were taken away.
“Essentially, it looks like a tornado came through,” Thoma said.
The facility was placed on lockdown for the night — but jail staff offered a trade-off. In exchange for good behavior, inmates were allowed to watch the Seahawks game.
“The Seahawks actually assisted us with the move,” Thoma joked.
Before inmates were loaded onto the bus, they were strip-searched by jail staff, then placed into restraints — a chain around the waist connected to cuffs around the wrists and ankles.
The old jail’s intake area was filled with staff and inmates preparing for the move. Snaza said nearly all of the county’s corrections deputies were on-hand for the move.
Lower-security inmates were transported first. High-risk offenders and inmates with mental health issues were transported individually by deputies.
“We know we have a large number of people who have severe mental illnesses, and they don’t do well in crowds,” Thoma said.
As buses reached the ARC, they pulled into the sally port, an area enclosed by tall walls topped with barbed wire. Inmates were unloaded 10 at a time and brought into the ARC’s intake area. There, their restraints were removed, and they sat in a row of plastic chairs waiting to be taken to their new living quarters. Eaton said corrections staff created cell and dormitory assignments prior to the move.
“We’ve got a master list,” Eaton said. “We know where everyone’s going.”
Most of the inmates will be housed in large, multi-bed dormitories — each of which hold 68 inmates. Under the new direct-supervision model, each dormitory will be staffed by one corrections deputy, 24 hours a day.
Once the inmates reached the dormitories, they were briefed by a deputy on their new living arrangements, their bed assignments and the rules of living in the ARC. They were also given a bag of snacks.
“It’s our welcome gift,” Thoma said. “Like a mint on your pillow at a hotel.”
Inmates who cause problems in the jail will be housed in a more traditional maximum-security setting, where they will spend much of their time in cells.
The Corrections Options inmates — those who are serving time in work release, school release or other options programs — were taken to their new facility on Friday. Thoma said the move went off without a hitch.
Those inmates had been living in a dilapidated prefabricated building set up in the jail’s parking lot. Thoma said the structure were only meant to last five years. But 17 years later, the county was still using it.
Now, the Corrections Options program — which includes electronic home monitoring and day jail — is run from an annex on the same property as the ARC.
He said he realized just how bad the old facility had been once it was vacant.
“When you’re out there by yourself and you look at it, you think, ‘How did we make it this long in this building?” Thoma said.
Turning off the lights and locking the empty building was cathartic, he said.
He also planned to be there Saturday afternoon when the last inmates departed from the main jail.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Thoma said. “I just want to be there when they turn the lights off.”