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-   -   WA state lawmakers poised to end days of inmates sleeping on the prison floor (http://www.prisontalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=118034)

JJT 04-11-2005 03:25 PM

WA state lawmakers poised to end days of inmates sleeping on the prison floor
 
Details are key to new prison Budget proposals disagree on funding, size and who would operate it

KENNETH P. VOGEL; The News Tribune
Last updated: April 11th, 2005 12:13 PM

State lawmakers and Gov. Christine Gregoire are poised to end the days of inmates sleeping on the floor of state prisons or being shipped off to private prisons in Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota. After years of putting off building a new prison, plans for spending upwards of $250 million on one in Eastern Washington appear likely to be approved this year. But with the Legislature entering the final two weeks of this year’s regular session, there’s a debate brewing about how big the new prison should be, how it should be paid for and who should operate it.

Ideas range from a 1,280-bed prison built using a $179 million state bond issue to a 2,000-bed prison financed – and possibly run – by the private sector.

Budget proposals from the state House, Senate and governor all call for a new prison on the grounds of the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in northern Franklin County between the Tri-Cities and Moses Lake. But the differences between the three plans – particularly how the prison would be financed – have emerged as the key hurdle to negotiating a $3 billion spending plan for construction projects around the state.

Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish), chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee, said building a new prison is a move lawmakers have been happy to put off in the face of tight budgets, but that it can’t be delayed any longer.

At the end of last year, the state had 674 more inmates than it had beds for, according to the Department of Corrections. The agency expects that number to rise to 2,700 by July and 5,400 by 2015. If approved, the new prison would open in four years.

“The reality is we needed it a couple years ago, because even if it had been funded last year, we would still have been sending inmates out of state. So we’re kind of in a pickle,” said Lynne Delano, assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Corrections.

An overcrowded system can be potentially volatile, she said, adding that sending prisoners out-of-state is bad policy.

“Family ties are really critical in terms of rehabilitation and re-entry into the community,” she said. “When you send folks out of state, it’s very hard on the offenders and it’s very difficult on their families. Their families weren’t sent to prison, but we’re punishing them as well.”

The department pays $61.55 to $73.22 per inmate, per day to house 540 inmates out of state. It expects to place another 400 by July.

“We cannot afford to keep sending people out of state. It’s a dramatic cost to the taxpayers of our state,” Gregoire said last month as she released her budget proposal.

Her prison plan shares certain attributes with the House and Senate proposals, but they depart in three main areas:


Gregoire and House budget writers propose a roughly 2,000-bed prison. Gregoire would set aside $267 million for a medium security prison. The House plan would set aside $245 million for a mix of medium-security beds and lower security “hybrid” beds.



Though Gregoire and Dunshee acknowledge that the state might not need all those beds right away, they say the state could rent excess beds to other states.

And, they say, it’s cheaper than building a prison with fewer beds and expanding it later.

That’s the idea behind the Senate plan, which proposes spending $179 million on a 1,280-bed medium-security prison, with some hybrid beds.

“It’s financially risky to go into the prison business,” Sen. Karen Fraser (D-Olympia), Dunshee’s counterpart in the Senate, said of the possibility of renting excess beds.

Fraser said the Senate plan would give the state flexibility to add beds if the need arises at the appropriate security level.

“Security changes, culture changes, crime changes,” Fraser said, adding that the smaller prison would keep the pressure on lawmakers to reform sentencing laws. Civil liberties groups argue that the state’s sentencing laws send too many non-violent offenders to prison for drug and property crimes.

All three budgets assume savings from reducing sentencing, but it’s always tricky to pass such legislation.



FINANCING



The House plan calls for the state to lease and eventually buy the prison from a private company, which would pay to build it by issuing bonds.

The debt for the prison wouldn’t count against the state’s bonding limit, which would allow the state to issue more bonds to pay to improve its public schools and other facilities.

Though the state has used similar schemes to pay for office buildings and other projects, the prison would be the biggest project financed that way.

Gregoire’s plan also calls for the state to lease the prison from an outside entity. But it opens the door to more possibilities, including allowing counties to team up to build the prison or a basic operating lease.

“We’re trying to spark a little out-of-the-box thinking here,” said Mike Roberts, Gregoire’s capital budget director.

At least one company, Correctional Properties Trust, a Florida real estate investment company, has expressed interest in providing financing under Gregoire’s plan.

But Fraser said the financing plans offered by Gregoire and the House won’t reduce the state’s debt, just shift it.

“We need to exercise discipline on debt,” she said. The Senate plan calls for a traditional financing scheme in which the state would issue general obligation bonds to build the prison.



OPERATION



The Gregoire and Senate plans call for the prison to be operated by the state, but the House plan leaves open the possibility of paying a private company to operate it.

Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee company that runs prisons in 20 states, has been lobbying lawmakers to allow private operation, which it says would save the state a bundle.

The company, which houses 328 Washington prisoners in private prisons in other states, submitted a plan to Gregoire and key lawmakers under which it would spend $100 million to build the prison and charge the state $65 per inmate, per day.

“If the budget language that comes out does not allow private operation, I think the state would be missing a significant opportunity both on the construction and operating side,” said Josh Brown, an official with the company.

Former Gov. Gary Locke had suggested looking into privatizing the new prison. But Gregoire said she’s opposed to the idea, citing a riot last year in a Corrections Corporation prison in Colorado that injured five Washington inmates.

Private prison operators cut costs by cutting corners, asserted Fraser.

Unions generally oppose private prisons. Corrections Corporation representatives met recently with the union representing state prison guards to discuss conditions under which the union might support a privately run prison.

Dunshee predicted some opposition might fade if the union could reach a deal with a private prison operator. Though he said he favors a state-run prison, he said he’s not opposed to exploring new ways to build and run a prison, particularly with regard to financing.

“Our kids have been in crowded and crumbling schools too long,” he said, “and they shouldn’t suffer because we love to throw people in jail.”

Kenneth P. Vogel: 360-754-6093

ken.vogel@thenewstribune.com

Prison proposals

Gov. Christine Gregoire and budget writers in the state House and Senate have proposed building a new prison in Franklin County, but their plans differ in the details.

Gregoire:



Size: 2,000-bed medium-security prison



Cost: $267 million in alternative financing



Financing: Range of options, including a private company or a coalition of local governments



Operations: Owned and operated by the state, which would lease and eventually buy it from an outside entity

House:



Size: 2,000-bed medium/hybrid-security prison



Cost: $245 million in alternative financing



Financing: State would lease and eventually buy it from a private company, which would finance its construction through the sale of bonds



Operations: Could be operated by the state or possibly a private company

Senate:



Size: 1,280-bed medium/hybrid-security prison



Cost: $179 million from state bonds



Financing: State bond issue



Operations: Owned and operated by the state

Truth Seeker 04-12-2005 09:36 AM

Surely there are alternatives to throwing so many in prison/jails? It is better than the overcrowding, but yes there should also be a large amount of money made available for prevention of crime, poverty reduction, schooling, etc.
Abelle

TJR 04-12-2005 07:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JJT
The department pays $61.55 to $73.22 per inmate, per day to house 540 inmates out of state. It expects to place another 400 by July.

400 more by July??!!! Oh, this just scares me... especially affter reading all the hell the OST gals and thier loved ones have gone through. This is just not right... the state should not be allowed to sentence more guys than they can accomodate!

JJT 04-12-2005 08:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TJR
. the state should not be allowed to sentence more guys than they can accomodate!

Wouldn't that be wonderful?? Not that I would wish prison time on anyone. But, lets be realistic...... crime and punishment does happen. But I love your idea!!!

Find alternatives!! Or better yet......... create a society where crime isn't so rampant!!

JJT

PattiD1157 04-14-2005 04:26 PM

I honestly feel for anyone facing the OST hoopla...<my polite word today>. It is such an emotional situation....My guy was told they will probably be there for 3 years.

Patti


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