Pine Lodge closure makes no sense when weighing dollars and community impact

By Rep. Joe Schmick

No legislator would welcome the closure of a vital, job-producing and community-impacting facility within their district.  So, when the Pine Lodge Corrections Center in Medical Lake appeared on Gov. Christine Gregoire's list of recommended closures as part of her efforts to deal with our state's $2.6 billion budget shortfall, I felt I had to look at this objectively as possible to make the best decision for the offenders, the community, and the state as a whole.

Last weekend, I joined with other local elected officials in calling for a town hall meeting to discuss this issue in depth.  We had a great turnout with Pine Lodge staff and community leaders in attendance.

One of the key factors in making this decision is capacity.  The Department of Corrections (DOC) states there is excess capacity in the prison system, thus making the decision to close Pine Lodge “doable” in terms of our state's present and long-term prison needs.

However, while I would agree that we currently have some unused capacity for the men's divisions, the same case cannot be made in terms of capacity and facilities for women.

Based on a DOC facilities report looking at the previous three years, the trend line for women in our prison system is increasing 2.6 – 5.6 percent a year.  This means there are more women entering the system each year than are leaving.  Plus, if Pine Lodge closes the other two women's facilities – Mission Creek in Belfair and Washington Corrections in Gig Harbor – capacity would be be pushed past “operational” levels and into “emergency” numbers by the influx of new inmates.  The resulting overcrowded facilities would have women sleeping on the floor and prison staff maxed out in terms of managing the increased population – not an ideal situation for all involved.

Another important element is the different cost of housing inmates at each facility.  Over the last five years, Pine Lodge has had the lowest per-offender per-day cost compared to the other two women's facilities.

The future costs of recidivism –  when released offenders commit further crimes resulting in incarceration – also need to be weighed.  At Pine Lodge, they have an intense prerelease counseling program which has shown an extremely low recidivism rate.  Coupled with closer proximity to family increases visitation, which studies have shown also decreases recidivism rates, resulting in decreased future incarceration.

Another factor that doesn't sit well with me is the fact that while the governor proposes closing Eastern Washington's only women's facility, her capital budget proposal includes plans to build a new 300-bed women's facility in Western Washington.  With an estimated $75.2 million in costs for design and construction (from 2011 – 2014), the governor's estimated savings of $10.2 million by closing Pine Lodge fails to pass the straight-face test.

Finally, the community and the people affected by closing Pine Lodge need to be considered.

At the forefront are local, family-wage jobs – the decrease of which would have a negative impact on the local economy.

Pine Lodge inmates also contribute to the local community in several tangible and measurable ways:

* In 2009, over 7,000 lbs of food produced from the facility garden were donated to local food banks

* Six women from Pine Lodge are needed to operate the Medical Lake Recycling Center

* The women cut and pile wood which is given to low-income families and the elderly for heating needs

* The women make blankets, hats, gloves, and other clothing items for the homeless and other organizations

* The women operate as groundskeepers for both Eastern State Hospital and Lakeland Village

* There were 5,902 hours of community service donated to Pine Lodge offenders in 2009

All of these areas enrich others in the community and cannot be dismissed lightly.

When all is said and done, the supposed motivation for closing Pine Lodge is to save money.  However, a closer look at the details shows that the math just doesn't add up.  The state even spent $500,000 on an independent study to see which facilities could be combined or closed.  This study did not recommend closure for Pine Lodge.

“Penny wise and pound foolish” is an overused axiom that comes to mind.  Simply put, the State of Washington, the employees and their families, the community, and the women's prison system at large cannot afford to close Pine Lodge Corrections Center.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov