Despite reports that the Washington State Department of Corrections is considering closing down the prison on McNeil Island to supposedly save money, recent events have indicated that the department is instead looking at other options.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, whose district encompasses McNeil Island, attended a meeting Thursday (Sept. 10), of a group looking at the feasibility of closing prisons and Department of Social and Health Services facilities in Washington. It was disclosed at this meeting that McNeil Island is not likely to be closed down.
“Shutting down the prison would mean hiring more employees to replace the 100-plus inmates who work maintaining the island’s roads and sewer system, staffing the fire department and other jobs. That could cost upwards of 2 million dollars,” Carrell said. “In addition, closing the prison could affect the federal grant to use that land, meaning if the prison is gone, ownership of the island is transferred back to the federal government. If that were to happen, the Special Commitment Center would have to be relocated as well, and I just don’t think DSHS or DOC wants to undertake that venture.”
Carrell went on to say he doesn’t expect any prison in the state to close, despite calls for such during the 2009 legislative session as a supposed short-term cost-saving measure. Carrell says an alternative plan may include removing or renting out old and unused portions of some prisons, such as Walla Walla and Monroe.
Also at the meeting, Carrell says he learned DOC is considering putting an inmate-operated mattress recycling facility in a DOC warehouse on the grounds of Western State Hospital in Lakewood. This is significant because, according to Carrell, the City of Lakewood and DOC have had a long-standing disagreement over the location of a Tacoma work-release program, and Lakewood has repeatedly refused to issue permits to DOC to move the Tacoma work-release program onto hospital grounds.
“Lakewood city officials are concerned that allowing this recycling program on the grounds of Western State Hospital might set a precedent and open the door for DOC to move the Tacoma work-release program to the hospital,” Carrell said. “The department wants to bring female felons in from the Mission Creek facility to work daily in a staff-secured DOC warehouse at Western State, which means there would be no physical walls or fences to keep them from leaving the facility. There really isn’t anything preventing these female inmates from escaping into Chambers Creek Canyon, University Place, Steilacoom, or a number of other places.”