Turn Maple Lane into prison center?

Now that it’s certain Maple Lane School will close, state Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, is pushing to transform the Grand Mound juvenile corrections facility into a high-security processing center for the state’s Department of Corrections.

“It wouldn’t be the same people, but it will be jobs nonetheless,” Swecker said about the 260 employees at Maple Lane, many of whom will be transferred to Green Hill School in Chehalis or elsewhere. “The exciting thing is it’s going to be 500 more employees. If we can get it located locally, it’ll have a huge impact on employment.”

The DOC is accepting applications from Western Washington municipalities for a new location to build a $167 million, 356,000-square-foot processing center to replace the current facility in Shelton. The Shelton site originally was designed to be a multipurpose prison and will fulfill that vision when the new prison hub is finished. The new processing center would hold newly incarcerated male offenders for a month or two before sending them to a regular prison to serve their sentence.

The processing center in Shelton employs 322 guards, 185 administrative staff members and 79 health professionals. David Jansen, capital programs director for the DOC, said the new site would be smaller than the existing one, but employee figures have yet to be determined. The number of offenders housed at the site would also be fewer than the 1,300 at the Shelton site.

Jansen said the department isn’t looking to discourage any jurisdiction from applying before the Jan. 6 deadline. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2013. The facility would go online in 2016.

Swecker and Lewis County Commissioner Ron Averill believe Maple Lane could be very competitive when stacked against other applicants, and not only because of its proximity to Interstate 5.

“It would seem to me to have a foot up because with minor alterations, they could have it up and running,” Averill said. “If they chose somewhere else, they would have to build a new facility.”

Swecker met Monday with officials from Lewis and Thurston counties to organize a strategy to put together a competitive bid that would place the new center in one of the counties.

“I thought we should all get behind the project and support Maple Lane,” he said. “But that’s a bad idea. Maple Lane might have great advantages, but we should look at everything.”

Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield is not opposed to a processing center, though he has “reservations.”

The center is not a destination. Therefore, many of the undesirable effects that can accompany the construction of a regular prison – family members of offenders moving into the area and inmates being released into the area – do not apply.

“My biggest concern is, the Department of Corrections can come in and build something like this and then want to expand it,” Mansfield said. “And it’s one more thing we would have to take into account if something bad happens.”

He wasn’t confident a rural site would stack up against applicants coming from Thurston, Pierce and King counties, and he was disappointed the area couldn’t bring in a different type of business.

“I’d like to see Microsoft and Intel come in here,” he said. “Lewis County is a great place to live.”