The state Senate approved a spending plan Saturday that would shut down McNeil Island Corrections Center, leaving only sex offenders confined on the island.
Under the plan, the 1,200-inmate prison near Steilacoom would close by June 30, 2011.
The costs of its island location, including a separate water system and reliance on a ferry, have made McNeil a target for budget cutters. Closing it instead of another prison that had been proposed for closure is estimated to save $25 million.
Over in the House, Democrats’ spending plan calls for downsizing the prison by half, not closing it. That’s what Democratic senators originally proposed, but the Senate budget committee voted just before 11 p.m. Friday to close the prison entirely.
A Pierce County senator who railed against the closure said he’s counting on his area’s legislators with influence in the House to keep the proposal from becoming reality.
“Who is going to be guarding the sex predators, which are considered so dangerous that it is a life sentence, if they escape?” Republican Sen. Mike Carrell asked the committee.
The Special Commitment Center on the island houses sexually violent predators deemed by judges to be so dangerous they must be confined even though they’ve completed their sentences.
What security measures would exist at the center if the prison were abandoned still is being worked out, along with the logistics of running ferry transport and water and sewer systems that now are managed by the Department of Corrections, with help from cheap inmate labor. A consultant’s report last fall recommended against closing the prison, citing the cost of maintaining those services and the difficulty of providing security.
The Senate budget would provide money to support continued confinement of sex offenders on the island.
“Nobody’s suggesting that we simply leave them in the hotel all by themselves,” Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli said.
Sen. Craig Pridemore, a Vancouver Democrat, proposed shutting down McNeil instead of a prison in his area, Larch Corrections Center. Zarelli, from nearby Ridgefield, said Larch is more cost-effective.
The Teamsters, whose ranks include more than 500 McNeil employees, complained that closing the prison would mean lost jobs and lack of space for a prison population projected to grow, said Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117.
“I understand the need in a time of significant budget deficits the need to be finding ways to reduce costs and find efficiencies,” she said, “but this seems like shooting yourself in the foot.”
The Senate approved updates to a pair of key two-year spending plans Saturday, the $30.5 billion operating budget and the $8.6 billion transportation budget. Last-minute changes to the spending packages would:
• Preserve the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Parks and Recreation Commission as separate agencies, rather than merge them into the Department of Natural Resources.
• Make $10.6 million in shared efficiencies and cuts affecting staff and services at parks, wildlife areas and other state lands.
• Prohibit closure of Tolmie State Park along Puget Sound’s Nisqually Reach.
• Spend $250,000 to create a commission charged with making proposals to reorganize state government and eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency. It would not, however, require legislators to accept or reject the commission’s proposals with no changes, as proposed by Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup.
• Spend $250,000 to study potential consolidation of some of Washington’s roughly 290 school districts. A GOP amendment to redirect the money to school lunches was rejected.
• Allow, rather than require, the Transportation Committee to impose a new surcharge based on fuel prices that ferry riders must pay starting July 1, 2011.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826