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Senators have it both ways on prison closure

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 4, 2010 at 9:39 am |
March 4, 2010 9:46 am

The senators who proposed and backed the budget amendment to close McNeil Island prison have also signed on to a letter urging McNeil be kept open.

What’s more, the letter calls for the Vancouver-area senators’ local prison, which they pushed to save, to be downsized.

Here’s the sequence of events: The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved the amendment Friday night to close McNeil and avoid closing the less expensive Larch Correctional Center in Yacolt. Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver proposed the amendment and Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield defended it.

The full Senate gave its approval with no debate on the prison plan, but Pierce County’s delegation, upset about the prospect of losing jobs at McNeil, fired off a letter to Majority Leader Lisa Brown. (The House delegation did the same to Speaker Frank Chopp. You can read both letters here.)

A couple of names stand out on the letter: Zarelli and Pridemore’s.

They signed it even though the letter says, of Pridemore’s amendment:

In the Ways and Means committee the budget was amended to fully fund the Larch facility and totally close the McNeil facility. We question the logic of this decision.

After questioning their own logic, the senators go on to request that parts of Larch be closed:

We respectfully request that during development of the final budget, the Senate pull back from this amendment and look for a resolution in the final budget that more closely reflects the recommendations from the DOC facility closure analysis which included downsizing of the McNeil facility and closing half of the Larch facility.

Pridemore, who is running for Congress, didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Zarelli said he was trying to help his Tacoma-area colleagues and signal his willingness to compromise, despite his preference that McNeil close.

“I support the amendment, but I’m trying to be as supportive as I can of the legislators in that area,” he said. “I know that affects people’s lives up there.”

The letter outlines “a middle ground that I think many of us are willing to accept,” he said.

Zarelli said the Pierce delegation asked for his signature, and he acknowledged: “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the letter.”

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