New prison idea for Maple Lane

At first glance, it makes sense for Washington to create a special prison facility for the mentally ill. The state already has facilities for aging inmates with health issues, and mental illnesses often tie offenders to our criminal-justice system like wrapped strands of DNA.

The House capital budget proposal was developed by Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee and Republican Rep. Richard DeBolt calls for putting about $5.3 million into the project this year.

Importantly the Department of Corrections embraces the concept. Corrections secretary Bernie Warner says 3,500 of the offenders behind bars in state prisons have a mental health diagnosis, but treatment programs are not comprehensive to deal with such illnesses.

Still to be determined is whether the former Maple Lane School in south Thurston County is the best site. But Maple Lane was a longtime youth prison until its closure by the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration during budget cuts in 2011.

And DOC ranked Maple Lane as its third-best site that year for a new receiving center where new inmates entering the prison system would go before assignment to a regional facility. The Grand Mound location near Interstate 5 is another selling point; it’s also near a major highway to Eastern Washington.

Lastly the project would bring permanent jobs to the rural area.

About $189 million could be needed to build the project, and operational costs are a consideration. But DeBolt, who lives in Chehalis, welcomes the project in his district.

DeBolt and other 20th district lawmakers protested when Maple Lane closed. The facility has been used by Corrections recently as a pharmacy to dispense prescription drugs for inmates in the adult prison system.

There’s more to be learned about the project, including its size and public safety risks it poses. But we hope the Senate can consdier this promising project in its capital-budget plan.

State Capital Museum may

face permanent closure

It’s always hard to say goodbye, but the time for shuttering the State Capital Museum may be near. The state House operating budget released last month is proposing to close it, partly because its Lord Mansion site, south of the Capitol, is unfit to exhibit artifacts that need controlled atmospheric conditions.

Past budget cuts limited the museum operations to one day a week; the building then closed a year ago for repairs. It’s not clear yet whether the Senate would go along with the House Democrats’ proposal.

But the capital city currently has no place to show off its political history.

The House plan would turn the building over to the Department of Enterprise Services for other uses. We hope any plan for shuttering the facility as a museum would include funds to let the Washington State Historical Society maintain some kind of permanent installation at the Legislative Building or traveling exhibits that address the role of Olympia in the state’s cultural and political history.

As Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, suggests, it could be wise for the city and state to hold community discussions about future public uses of the mansion, including as state offices.