One jail or two?

May 13th, 2008 by Ken

Thurston County has decided that it can’t operate two jails, so it plans on building just one big new jail.  

We’ve been telling them for years that the county doesn’t have the money to operate two jails, and now it appears that Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball as well as County Administrator Don Krupp agree. 

So they’ve presented a proposal by which they will build one big jail, and close the one at the courthouse or use it for work release.  But the bigger question, and one I hope someone will ask, is where will they get the money?

If you remember back to 2004, voters turned down a proposal to build a $100 million dollar Law and Justice Center.  So, commissioners turned to their own funds, or at least funds approved by the voters in 1995.  That levied a one percent local sales tax which can be used only for law and justice matters.  The commissioners determined to build a new jail, and called it the Accountability and Restitution Center.  The cost was $40 million.  The plan was to build this new ARC and continue to operate the old jail at the courthouse as well.  The ARC would house misdemeanors and minor offenders, while the real hard core would be kept in the more secure courthouse jail.

Many of us told the commissioners that there wouldn’t be enough money to operate both jails and pointed to Tacoma, where a new jail there still sits partly empty because there’s no money to hire staff.

Apparently someone was listening, because this new proposal calls for building a larger jail which will serve all but the most minor of offenders.  The cost will be $60 million, although I suspect the cost will rise to $80 million by the time they’re through.

Kimball and Krupp say they can pull together the $60 million by using the $40 million set aside, by saving money through elimination of some 15 staff and by making other reductions in jail services.  They also plan to save money, by NOT moving the county treasurer, auditor and assessor to the old Tyson Seafood building.  Money would be saved by not having to pay renovation costs.  They also hope that money continues to come into the county from the one percent sales tax.

Through those and other methods yet to be worked out, the sheriff and the commissioners hope to be able to build this new jail.

In addition to the money question, residents in Tumwater living near the new proposed jail, might have some concerns of their own.  They were told originally that hard core offenders would be kept at the old jail.  Now they’re facing the reality that all jail inmates will be housed at the new one.

The proposal has drawn support from Thurston County Treasurer Robin Hunt, who would have been displaced and forced to move into another building under the two jail plan.  “The commissioners have opted to spend their money on their highest priority which is the jail,” Hunt said.  “That makes sense.” 

I like the idea that authorities are considering only one jail.  That makes sense.  But how to pay for it and how to meet the concerns of residents living near the jail have yet to be answered.   Lets hope those questions and probably others are answered before we get to far along in the process.

Posted in Government, The Real News

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