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Senate panel: Close McNeil Island prison

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 27, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
February 27, 2010 6:05 pm

Senators are moving to close McNeil Island Corrections Center.

The island prison would close by June 30, 2011, under a change Friday night to Senate Democrats’ budget plan, which originally called for downsizing the prison to move out nearly half of its 1,200 inmates.

The budget could be up for a vote on the Senate floor within hours.

The hand that taketh away from McNeil also giveth to Larch Corrections Center near Vancouver. The original Senate plan called for closing Larch and the House wants to downsize it, but the new proposal approved Friday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee would leave Larch untouched.

The goal is to save $25 million more than under the old plan, Senate Democrats said. That’s the price of shuttering McNeil and keeping Larch open with 480 beds.

Being on an island, the place is costly to operate, from its separate utility systems to its reliance on a ferry.

The Teamsters, whose ranks include more than 500 McNeil employees, complained that the plan ignores a consultant’s advice that closing McNeil is not an option because of the sexual predators who are also housed on the island at the Special Commitment Center.

Closing the prison would mean lost jobs and lack of space for a growing prison population, said Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117.

UPDATED with video of Pierce County legislators sparring with Vancouver-area legislators Friday night. Sen. Mike Carrell in particular was not happy: “I want somebody on this committee to volunteer their district for that sex offender program, because it is a matter of public safety.”

But Sen. Joe Zarelli assured him there are plans for adding security to keep the Special Commitment Center on McNeil: “Nobody’s suggesting that we simply leave them in the hotel all by themselves.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Senate has approved its spending plan. The package of changes to a $30.5 billion, tw0-year operating budget includes the closure of McNeil Island prison.

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