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UPDATED: Budget cuts to shutter McNeil Island prison next year, DOC announces

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Nov. 19, 2010 at 11:00 am with 35 Comments »
November 19, 2010 2:32 pm

The state Department of Corrections will be closing McNeil Island Corrections Center in Pierce County next year as a result of budget cuts, the agency announced this morning.

The historic island prison will close for good April 1 and its 515 offenders shipped to other prisons in the state, according to a press release issued this morning.

The prison employs 245 staff members and the corrections department will work to find them jobs elsewhere in the prison system, the agency said.

The McNeil Island prison had been the focus of closure talks earlier this year. But instead of shuttering the facility, the state Legislature decided to cut the prison’s population by 80 percent, going from 1,292 prisoners to 256 by March.

Further cuts are needed because of declining tax revenue, the agency announced. The agency has to reduce its budget by nearly $53 million.

Full closure of the Pierce County prison is expected to save the Department of Corrections $6.3 million a year.

“This will save the most money without compromising the safety of our staff, the offenders and the public,” Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail said in the press release. “The budget crisis is causing us to make some of the most painful decisions in our agency’s history.”

Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood) said the closure could mean fewer offenders are released into Pierce County. On the downside, however, the local economy could be impacted.

“The economic impact of the McNeil Island prison closure will mean reduced income for local businesses that provide services and supplies related to prison operations, employees and visitors,” Carrell wrote in a statement. “This will result in another blow to our local economy still deep in the pain of the recession.”

The costs to operate the ferries, barges and fire boats to McNeil Island will shift from the corrections department to the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the Special Commitment Center for sexually violent predators on the island.

Right now, the two agencies share those costs. Thomas Shapley, spokesman for DSHS, said the new burdens will cost the agency about $5.4 million more in the 2011-13 budget year.

“We have a lot to work out,” he said. “It will have an impact.”

Earlier this fall, the corrections department announced that it would close Larch Corrections Center near Vancouver.

They’ve changed courses after realizing that the Larch closure would save only $2 million a year. The department announced today that Larch Corrections Center will go back to full capacity and house 480. Right now, it has 240 offenders.

McNeil Island prison first opened in 1875. It was run as a federal penitentiary until it closed in 1976. The state signed a lease with the federal government in 1981 and reopened McNeil Island as a state prison for maximum security prisoners. The state was deeded the island in 1984.

McNeil Island will be the third prison to be closed in the state. DOC closed Ahtanum View Corrections Center in Yakima and Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women near Spokane earlier this year. Both were minimum-security facilities.

The state will have 12 remaining prisons with enough beds to house 16,000 offenders.

Leave a comment Comments → 35
  1. Commandtiger says:

    Did the state rent thatr island from France Devils Island to send the sex offender??????

  2. skippythedog says:

    How dumb is that? What’s the point in leaving all the marine logistics (ferries, boats, docks) in place just for a few convicts in the Special Commitment center? “Shifting” the cost to DSHS still costs all of us the same amount! Duh! The Special Commitment program is about the dumbest/most expensive program in existence sending an attendant/officer with the convict the entire time they are in the community (at their job for example)…What the State oughta do is double or triple the population at McNeil in order to bring the costs per inmate DOWN. The fixed costs will remain virtually the same.

  3. dirtydan54 says:

    Fine example of how come the state is having financial difficulties. 200 employees from this facility will be reassigned to other facilities rather than be laid off.

    In the private sector these employees would be laid off. So now we have a glut of 200 prison employees costing us money just to save the job of these state employees that will be added to other facilities for no other reason.

    The idiocy of state officials have no limits. And they are paid by who again?

  4. DevilDoc says:

    Tax money switched from one pocket to another seems to be the best Queen Christine can do. She just never “gets it”. Way past time for a new Gov.

  5. fivecardstud says:

    They could save even more if they shipped them sexual perverts out of state and close that place too. Either that or transfer them to the ASPCA and house them at the Humane Society.

  6. lovethemountains says:

    Shuffle, shuffle, smoke and mirrors.
    Christine says do it, and have no fears.

    Save corrections a bunch of dough
    spend it elsewhere, she decrees it so.

  7. Hey dirtydan;

    If the private sector company had job openings elsewhere, they may transfer people. see, it costs money to train new people. keeping trained employees increases staff safety. your very simplistic statements to a complex problem echo the other knuckle draggers around here. you do realize that it hurts all of the local economy to lose ANY jobs, even those terrible state employees. if not, perhaps some basic economics would help.

  8. Subdivide and sell the island to land developers. They will raise a ton of cash. That is some primo waterfront, with a ferry dock in place. Even in this crappy market – its a valuable chunk of real estate.

  9. BlaineCGarver says:

    Prolly the most secure prison since Alcatraz…..Remember: Queen C. will make the most illogical and stupid/painful cuts to punish us taxpayers for turning down her massive tax hikes…

  10. So it looks like the State is going to save us about 1 + Million with there plan.

    This is with No layoffs Just move people around.
    How many are they going to put back on the street so they can do their crimes again.
    I would like to know how many that are there for rape that will never offend again.
    I think that 99 percent will get out and do it all over again.
    So why not close the whole place down and send them with the others and serve their time like the others and do not seperate them.
    Then also start up the OLD chain Gang system and have them make roads and trails in the mountians and anyplace else that work needs to be done.
    This is a way for them to pay back and pay for their food also make sure that they are chained to gether so they can not excape.

  11. retired81 says:

    The island was deeded to the state with the provision that their be no major development of the island and that the majority of the island remain a wildlife refuge operated by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sorry folks. No island condos.

  12. eyeugize says:

    McNeil has always been a money pit.
    Can’t imagine what kind of impact this will have on the Town of Steilacoom.
    All those prison employee’s living in town…. .gone.
    More houses dumped on the market, more rental vacancies.

    As for the fate of the island ????
    The State should negotiate a new lease and turn it into ” McNeil Island State Park” similair to Alcatraz.
    Prison tours, eco tourism, job retention and job creation.
    Might offset the up and coming damage from closure, but it will take time.

  13. retired81 says:

    Hultmale: Did you not read my post? They can’t.

  14. retired81 says:

    The island was only leased for 3 yrs and then the feds sold it to the state.

  15. retired81 says:

    On January 4, 1984, Governor John D. Spellman signed documents drawn up by the General Services Administration, officially deeding the seven-square-mile McNeil Island to Washington State. Under terms of the agreement authorized by Congress, the state would be allowed to continue operating the abandoned federal penitentiary, but couldn’t permit any major development of the rest of the island. Designated an official wildlife preserve, any public visitation or use of McNeil Island would be strictly prohibited.

  16. retired81 says:

    A new deed to McNeil was issued in 1996, from the Department of Justice. Building restrictions were lifted to permit the construction of the new Work Ethic Camp facility. All other original deed covenants continued, i.e., maintaining the federal graveyard, public access limitations, protection of wildlife, etc.

  17. retired81 says:

    It would appear that the feds are still in control of the island, but the deed is held by the state. What is that?

  18. Lock and Load people !

    Early released felons coming to a neighborhood near you !

    AND AGAIN, no talk whatsoever as to what the care and feeding of all of our Illegal Criminals, and their spawn are costing us !

  19. klthompson says:

    Here is a capital idea. Defy the Feds and sell the island. It would sure help the financial pain now going on in Olympia.

  20. eyeugize says:

    I may be incorrect on the lease issue.
    The island is what it is.
    A jewel that must be preserved.
    Whoever owns it, State or Fed’s, it still can be done.
    McNeil Island State Park or McNeil Island National Park.
    Either scenario is a win win for Pierce County and Steilacoom.

  21. hultmale says:


    I read your post. Do you really think I believed they would make a resort that caters to S and M?

    Just trying to add a little levity to a dire situation.

  22. They can’t triple the inmates to reduce costs. the sex offenders might start “offending” each other, dummie. Heck, just send them str8 to Tacoma; that’s where they all end up anyway!

  23. Steilacoomtaxpayer:
    The uneducated employees that you refer to includes physicians, physician assistants, nurses, electricians, plumbers, guards, psychologists, social workers and classification counselors who spend hundreds of hours each year in training. You need to educate yourself.

  24. sunup500 says:

    Pay attention folks………follow the money trail on this one. McNiel Island has been a highly coveted location for developers. An upscale exclusive developement has been lurking in the near future.There will be kickbacks. The state has financial woes and sees an opportunity to make money on the sale, and closure. Remember that there has been so much discussion about overcrowding in prisons and the need to build more? Now we see that they have enough room to house over 500 inmates in other prisons. This is a money grab. Stay tuned.

  25. eyeugize says:

    Hey retired 81,

    A voice of logic and reasoning at last. Regarding the agreement Spellman signed in 84, you’ve just jogged my memory. I remember something about keeping the public off the wildlife area’s on the island for prison security reasons. Now that it will no longer be a prison, do you think that provision would still apply. Can we find that document on line somewhere.

  26. steilacoomtaxpayer says:

    Put Western Stae Hopital over there and open up 200 acres in Lakewood.

  27. quiller4 says:

    dirtydan54 says:
    November 19, 2010 at 11:35 am
    “Fine example of how come the state is having financial difficulties. 200 employees from this facility will be reassigned to other facilities rather than be laid off.

    “In the private sector these employees would be laid off. …

    Many DOC employees have already been laid off and others will lose jobs as those from McNeil transfer to other prisons and “bump” junior empyees into the unemployment lines.

  28. sweetpeafortea says:

    What I don’t understand is that they will be trading $.40/hr inmate workers for civilian workers with salaries on basic operations of the island, such as the sewage and water treatment plant, maintenance crews, boat crews, and fire crews. All of those raised costs will have to be absorbed by DSHS to keep SCC running. How will that save us money? All they’re doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  29. summit98446 says:

    It is my understanding McNeil Island was the site of Ezra Meeker’s first settlement & farm.
    Perhaps we create a utopian settlement there, similar to Home, Wa in the 20’s. Raise some money for the state, support sustainability & honor the Island’s history.

  30. gailames says:

    Nice Article. I just now got Coupons of my Favorite Brands at

  31. manoflemuncha says:

    Hmm… close McNeil Island penitentiary.
    Okay, California closed Alcatraz, too.

    So… what can the state do profitably with the island?

    Let’s see…historic landmark?… probably not… youth camp? … good idea but probably not a money maker… arcade like Coney Island and Six-Flags? …maybe… maybe not… game preserve or park ala NW Trek? … good idea but probably not in this economy… lease it to the US military? … no … think… think… think… state gambling? …what would other states do?

    What about a state-run brothel? Employ security personnel, medical professionals, guidance counselors, legal professionals, control the spread of social disease, finance State programs… hmm I like it!

  32. There are some VERY nice residential houses out there on McNeil right now.

    Always wondered how one acquires a home out there. I believe there is a mansion too. And now what? Do they become State worker cottages?

    It’s a gorgeous relatively untouched place. But I be someone can smell the potential property tax cash.

  33. I may not know much but I almost agree with just utilizing McNeil more ( increase the inmate population) the state has already spent millions upgrading it. I think I saw an article the other day where the state has plans to build a new prison. Washington state , and the Puget sound area is a beautiful place, but as such it also attracts a lot of unsavory people. Hence the need for so much prison space. Also a whole bunch of state employees need to join the real world i.e., from a previous post. Start from close to the top though. I have worked for DSHS several times. Interesting but it is “dronesville”.

  34. Sunup500 made an astute comment. Discovery Park in Seattle had the same issue concerning land development. It was previously a federal site. If the city wanted to sell off the coastline first dibs went to the Tribes. Then the indians had grand plans which the neighborhood didn’t appreciate. Long and short, to prevent a land takeover it remains a Major City Park santuary.

    I can see the money flow to maneuver this to private hands. If the we the state don’t have enough beds to house criminals how do we find space for McNeil prisoners and how do we plan for the future as our population increases. A good resource is money spent on education and treatment to prevent people going to jail.

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