Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Tag: Paul Pastor

June
4th

Pierce County Jail crisis demands legislative fix

PIERCE COUNTY JAIL
Tacoma’s transfer of misdemeanants to Fife has put the Pierce County Jail in a budget crisis. (Staff file photo)

When cities and counties have a serious conflict they can’t settle among themselves, it’s really a state problem. The Legislature should start paying attention to the predicament of the Pierce County Jail.

That predicament is a result of municipalities acting in their own interests and the interests of their citizens — good local impulses that add up to a bad regional result.

It started in 2009 when the City of Lakewood began moving its low-level offenders and arrestees from the Pierce County Jail to cities that ran cheaper lockups, including Fife’s 36-bed operation.

Pierce County rolled with that punch. But then, in December, the City of Tacoma — the county’s biggest jail “customer” — decided to do likewise, diverting its own misdemeanants to Fife’s jurisdiction. This left the county reeling with the loss of millions of dollars; Sheriff Paul Pastor is now ordering the closure of two 84-bed dorms at the jail and elimination of as many as 30 jobs there.

Tacoma and Lakewood officials are grabbing savings dangling in front of their noses. Fife officials are doing something more imaginative: turning their small city into a big-time broker of jail capacity.

They’ve recently bargained for available beds in Yakima, Wapato, Sunnyside and the South Correctional Entity in Des Moines; they’re brokering those beds to Lakewood and Tacoma.

This wouldn’t hurt the county so much if Lakewood and Tacoma were sending all their people to Fife. What they are actually doing is saddling the Pierce County Jail with their felons, accused felons and severely mentally ill, who cost much more to control, guard and treat.

The county had been able to subsidize those costs with city reimbursements for petty offenders. Now the shift of those cheaper arrestees to the Fife archipelago is allowing Tacoma and Lakewood to pocket the difference — and leaving the Pierce County Jail bleeding from the pockets.

Aside from the financial crisis for the county, there’s a potential threat to public safety. Had those two 84-bed pods been unavailable last week, for example, the Pierce County Jail wouldn’t have had the capacity to house the inmates who were actually in it.

When the pods do close, some criminals who belong behind bars might instead wind up in home-monitoring or some other more relaxed arrangement. Relaxed arrangements are not great deterrents to crime.
Read more »

May
31st

Stealing the good bad guys from the Pierce County Jail

As our news staff reported Wednesday, the Pierce County Jail – which is to say, the Pierce County government – is taking a big hit from Tacoma’s decision last December to pull its petty crooks out of the downtown slammer.

Tacoma was the jail’s biggest customer. We’re talking the loss of millions of dollars a year (the city paid $6 million in 2012). The financial crisis is forcing Sheriff Paul Pastor to lay off jail staff, shut down 160 beds and do something creative with the resulting bed shortage. He promised there’d be no Fall-of-Baghdad-style mass release of mad sociopaths.

Pastor, county Executive Pat McCarthy and Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald were in this morning to lay out the dismal facts.

“We don’t fault Tacoma,” McCarthy said, for sending its misdemeanants to Fife’s relatively cheap penal system and leaving its high-maintenance felons – whose incarceration the city doesn’t pay for – in the Pierce County Jail.

But McCarthy really wasn’t delighted with Tacoma. She proceeded to elaborate on the ill consequences of the city’s “shopping around” for jails and the way it let Fife “cherry-pick” the nicer, healthier, less dangerous small-timers.

This is something like the adverse selection that health insurers worry about – getting stuck with the sick, older people when the younger, healthy people decide they don’t want to subsidize all those heart attacks and strokes with their premium dollars. The City of Tacoma is a rational actor. It’s in a budget crisis of its own, and it’s not passing up a chance to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in criminal justice expenses.

The City of Fife’s creative entrepreneurialism should be noted. Its jail has a scant 36 beds, but it’s negotiated for jail space in cities from Des Moines to Sunnyside in Eastern Washington. It then markets these beds to its own customers, now including Tacoma and Lakewood.

Another rational actor. Somebody should be working on Wall Street, not 23rd Street East.
Read more »