Politics & Government

Consultant recommends prison close

A consultant recommends that the state close its Maple Lane prison for youth criminal offenders near Grand Mound to save the state money, a move that would eliminate 111 jobs once workers and residents were transferred to other facilities.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office released the report Wednesday, drawing criticism from state employee unions and some lawmakers. But one key budget writer, Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina, said the consultant’s report – which he had not read – will be taken seriously as lawmakers try to close a budget shortfall in the January session.

“As a Legislature, we’re going to be looking at the data. I wouldn’t say anything is binding. I’m one who looks to see what data is out there and make an informed decision based on the data,” Tom said.

Christopher Murray and Associates did the report at the behest of lawmakers, who ordered it in their budget.

The report did not specify a savings goal from closing the 235-bed facility, which costs $17.4 million a year to run. But it estimates nearly 284 jobs would be eliminated at Maple Lane, while 83 would be added at the Green Hill youth prison in Chehalis and 79 would be added at Echo Glen Children’s Center.

State Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, blasted the report in advance, saying in a news release earlier in the week that the consultant’s approach was too narrow to be valid. DeBolt, whose 20th Legislative District includes Maple Lane and Green Hill, wrote to Gregoire on Oct. 8 to say a broader look was needed at the overall needs of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, which runs the lockups.

“The contractor conducting this study should have been given sufficient information and latitude to identify the best alternatives for achieving savings in the system, while maintaining services for juveniles and protecting public safety,” DeBolt said in a news release. “A study conducted just four years ago showed closing a facility in Naselle was the most practical alternative. Yet this study did not even consider that option.”

DeBolt called the review politicized.

The report recommendation spares Green Hill, which some lawmakers had suggested closing earlier this year.

Tom said any recommendation for cuts is likely to draw complaints from lawmakers in the affected district.

“It’s funny DeBolt would be the one complaining because he’s always saying, ‘You need to cut, you need to cut’ ...” Tom added. “At some point, they (Republicans) need to buckle up and realize that cuts have consequences.’’

Other recommendations are to close the oldest section of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla if $41 million is spent on other units to replace it; close Ahtanum View Corrections Center at Yakima and transfer about 100 medically frail inmates to the prison complex at Monroe; and shut half of the Larch center in Yacolt.

It also calls for downgrading McNeil Island to a minimum-security prison, if sentencing policy changes are made.

The consultant also calls on the Developmental Disability Division to close its intermediate-care facilities over eight years; shut down residential rehabilitation units at Francis Haddon Morgan Center by 2013, and close Rainier School in Buckley in phases by 2017.

Kate Lykins-Brown, spokeswoman for the Office of Financial Management, said the consultant’s report did “what the Legislature asked for.” A second phase of the report due late in the month looks into transition costs related to the closures, she said.

“OFM, as it builds the supplemental budget for next year, will be looking at all options, including those that come from this report,’’ Lykins-Brown said.

Republican Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood said he is pleased the report recommended a bed reduction at Pierce County-based McNeil Island prison instead of closing it, because it also is home to the Special Commitment Center, which houses violent sex offenders. But he said one-time savings gained from having fewer facilities and less supervision of offenders “is a recipe for an increase in arrests.”

Tim Welch of the Washington Federation of State Employees said the union was stunned by the recommendations and that workers already are mobilizing to stop the closures.

“Our goal is to have the Legislature and governor reject these proposals,’’ Welch said. “These institutions and programs are a valuable part of a continuum of care. To get rid of any one of them is going to harm the entire system.’’

Welch said there may be other ways to get the savings needed.

“We realize why the Legislature called for the report. But we’ve cut to the bone. We’re down to where essential services and essential public safety would be harmed,’’ he said.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688