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Deal shaping up on prisons

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 19, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
March 19, 2010 2:51 pm

A deal is shaping up to keep McNeil Island Corrections Center open — for now — but at a fraction of its current size.

Senate and House budget negotiators said they have tentatively agreed to downsize McNeil to just 256 inmates, from the 1,200 housed there now, and eventually close it. No date would be set for the closure, but the state would start planning to build a new prison.

Nothing is final.  House negotiators are still reviewing details. And there could be dissent among the rank-and-file, notably from Pierce County lawmakers.

The deal, which would turn McNeil into a  minimum-security facility, would strike a balance between the Senate’s plan — close the facility altogether and start work on a new prison somewhere in western Washington — and the House’s proposal to keep it open with 512 inmates.

Larch Corrections Center in Clark County would be cut to half its size under the deal. Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women would close, a House budget writer said – but a Senate negotiator demurred on the fate of the Spokane prison, so that one may be more in doubt.

Scaling McNeil down to a quarter of its size appears to have solid backing on both sides of the negotiations. House negotiators offered up the idea.

“Basically we agreed with that,” Sen. Jim Hargrove said. “You can’t go from 1,200 to zero overnight, so this is a step down.”

But the Pierce County delegation is trying to save as many prison jobs as possible. Rep. Tami Green doesn’t like the idea of cutting McNeil’s population to 256.

“That’s a ton of burden on our county for jobs,” Green said. She questioned the idea of replacing McNeil, no matter how vague the timeline — and in the House, she said: “I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of ‘hip, hip, hooray’ for building a new prison.”

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