Washington state

Gregoire: Snohomish to ease jail crunch

Gov. Chris Gregoire, heatedly declaring that pub lic safety is her highest priority, on Monday announced that Snohomish County will provide jail beds for 180 state parole violators.

The extra capacity will allow the state to impose full jail terms on all ex-convicts who violate their parole.

The state recently touched off a firestorm by releasing 83 felons early from the overcrowded King County jails, where they were serving sentences for violating terms of release from state prison.

At the time, Gregoire said that early release policy was unacceptable and that parole violators would be required to serve their full punishment.

On Monday, she and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, a former Democratic state lawmaker, announced that Snohomish will free up about 180 beds for overflow state ex-cons.

That means the offenders will serve the full sentence for violating their probation, and the state won't have to deal with them in the badly overcrowded state prison system, said prison chief Harold Clarke.

225 inmates

Reardon said the county has been housing about 225 state inmates already in the 1,275-bed county jail that opened in Everett in 2003.

The county will reopen a mothballed facility called The Ridge northeast of Arlington and will accommodate 170 to 180 more inmates at a cost of about $70 per day per inmate.

Clarke said the state also will contract with a few other counties, including Yakima, with the total to top the 1,000 mark.

The state also is using about 1,000 rent-a-cell beds in Minnesota and Arizona.

Before turning to the counties as a short-term solution for the parole violators, the state prison system was looking for more out-of-state placements.

Gregoire said most of those taken into custody for violating terms of their original release failed to check in with their community corrections officers, missed drug tests or failed to attend mental health therapy and other required sessions. Violators could face 90 days behind bars.

The Seattle Times reported last week that at least 21 had been convicted of assault, 15 of drug crimes, nine of burglary, three of rape and one of kidnapping.

State officials say their contracts with 14 jails around the state don't provide enough cells.

Gregoire said the problem with post-release violations points out the need to hold offenders accountable and to do a much better job of rehabilitating people, both in prison and in their home communities after they're released.

"These individuals fundamentally have to be held accountable for their actions," she said. "Our communities need to be safe."

Gregoire, who said she "absolutely" remains confident in Clarke's leadership, touted a $25 million package that she, Clarke and a legislative coalition are promoting.

It would add money for education, drug treatment, mental health, job training and other services, both inside prison and after felons are released.

The plan would allow shorter sentences for inmates who stick to their treatment regime.