State seeking more prison space

TACOMA — Washington needs to start planning for more prison space, especially for women, the Department of Corrections says.

The department is asking Gov. Jay Inslee to include $1.8 million in his proposed adjustment in December to the state’s two-year budget, The News Tribune reported Tuesday.

The money would start planning for a $17 million expansion at the women’s prison at Purdy and a $175 million renovation of the former Maple Lane youth detention center at Grand Mound.

At the woman’s prison, an obsolete housing unit that has been vacant for 15 years would be replaced with a 96-bed unit.

The Maple Lane center was operated by the state Department of Social and Health Services before it was closed a couple of years ago. The Department of Corrections has kept it in “warm closure” to maintain buildings for the possible renovation to a prison that could house about 1,000 men, spokeswoman Norah West said.

The Legislature would have to approve spending for additional prison space, reversing recent prison closures. The Corrections Department closed the Ahtanum View Corrections Center at Yakima in 2009, the Pine Lodge Correctional Facility for Women at Medical Lake in 2010, and the McNeil Island Corrections Center in 2011.

A dozen state prisons now hold more than 16,000 men, West said.

Nearly 1,400 women are held in two prisons. More than 900 are at the Purdy women’s prison, which was built to hold fewer than 800. Some female inmates there are sleeping on the floor. Another 400 are at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women at Belfair.

The only recent addition to prison space was the opening of a unit in July for 120 men at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, West said.

Washington prisons are operating at or slightly over capacity, she said.

Most of the need for space is in medium-security lockups, Corrections Secretary Bernard Warner told the Kitsap Sun.

Under Washington’s sentencing system, there are not many ways to reduce the prison population. Many nonviolent sex and drug offenders already serve their time through 15 work-release centers. The people left in prison are mostly violent offenders.

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