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Old 01-12-2005, 05:34 PM
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danielle danielle is offline
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Default Article: Exporting county inmates

Exporting inmates
By MARTA MURVOSH Staff Writer

Burlington considers sending prisoners to Okanogan County instead of Skagit County Jail
Plan would ease crowding, save money, police say

Seeking to cut costs and help with crowding at Skagit County Jail, the Burlington City Council will consider shipping some people convicted of misdemeanors to Okanogan County to serve their time.

If approved, the proposed contract has the potential to save the city at least $23 a day per prisoner.

An agreement to rent jail beds in Okanogan also would shorten the time defendants wait between their sentencing in Burlington Municipal Court and the day they start their sentence.

That's because crowded conditions at the Skagit County Jail force corrections officers to set appointments for defendants to serve their sentence. There is no waiting list in the Okanogan jail.

"It's not just a question of costs," Burlington police Chief Bud Bowers said. "It's a question of available space."

If the council agrees, there would be no charge for transporting prisoners regardless of whether Highway 20 was open or not. That's because Okanogan corrections officers make two trips a week to Western Washington to serve the 13 cities they have contracts with.
Burlington's consideration of the Okanogan contract is another sign that the Skagit County Jail is too small for the community's needs.

The jail, which opened in 1983, was built for 83 prisoners. Twenty years later, the capacity was expanded to 180.

On most days, the jail operates at or above capacity, Chief of Corrections Gary Shand said. A consultant is studying the county's future jail needs and the crowding issue.

"Right now we are in a situation where there is always somebody ready to take a bed," Shand said.

The council will consider the proposed contract with Okanogan jail Thursday at its regular meeting.

The proposed contract would apply to inmates who are serving longer sentences. The exact length of sentence hasn't been decided.

While acknowledging that jail crowding and costs were issues, Richard Sybrandy, one of two lawyers who have Burlington public defender contracts, said the proposal to transport some inmates out of the area raises concerns.

"What if there is reconsideration of the sentencing?" Sybrandy said. "Then contact with their attorneys is difficult and contact with court is difficult."

Additionally, inmates' families would find spending a day on the road traveling to and from the jail would make it inconvenient to visit.

If the council were to approve the contract, Burlington would be the latest city in Western Washington taking advantage of the less expensive jail rental costs east of the Cascades.

Other counties in Eastern Washington, including Benton, Ferry and Yakima rent space at their jails to cities in the west. Both Anacortes and Mount Vernon police departments have considered and rejected contracting with jails outside the county. Anacortes police have begun to look at a proposal from Ferry County.

Mount Vernon police Chief Mike Barsness said he didn't believe the savings offered by out-of-area jails offset the benefits of housing prisoners locally.

"The convenience of having those prisoners in the county factors a lot into it," Barsness said. "The Skagit County Jail has to be paid for one way or another. If we don't pay for it one way, we will pay for it another."

Sedro-Woolley police have contracted with Wapato City Jail since the late 1990s, but have never sent that agency any prisoners. The contract is for defendants serving sentences of two months or more. Most Sedro-Woolley Municipal Court sentences are for less than a month.

Burlington officials say contracting with another jail doesn't mean the city would stop using Skagit jail.

"We still need to pick people up on a daily basis on warrants or in-progress calls," Bowers said.

The total potential savings from an Okanogan deal is not clear, Bowers said. That's because it isn't known how many defendants will serve longer sentences — those most likely sent to Okanogan.

In 2003, Burlington paid $148,000 to house prisoners in the Skagit jail. For the first 11 months of 2004, the city paid $106,000 to the jail, but billing for December includes people serving sentences into February and will likely drive the total much higher.

"We have just found in some situations, putting our inmates into our jail here, has become somewhat costly," said Jon Aarstad, Burlington city administrator. "The long-term (sentences) obviously are more expensive."

Skagit jail Chief Gary Shand said it was too soon to know what kind of impact Burlington's proposed contract with Okanogan would have, if approved.

It might affect the jail's ability to predict how many beds it will need as the county grows in size, Shand said. In the short-term, it could help with jail crowding.

Roughly a third of the $3.7 million in revenue used to operate the Skagit jail comes from cities' contracts, Shand said.

Bowers brought the Okanogan jail idea to the city's Public Safety Committee after he received several letters from jails in Eastern Washington looking to rent bed space to Burlington.

Not every person arrested in Burlington would be suitable to send to Okanogan jail, Bowers said.

It would be impractical to sentence people with pending court dates at other Skagit jurisdictions to jail in Okanogan County, he said.

"Even though it would be a third of the cost, it won't be a third of the savings," Bower said.

Okanogan charges law enforcement agencies $42 a day per inmate. There would be no charge to transport inmates.

Skagit charges $65 a day, plus a $30 booking fee. The booking fee is charged to each inmate, but if he or she can't pay, the fee is passed on to the arresting agency.

By comparison, Snohomish County Jail just reduced its rates to $56 a day with a $85 booking fee. Yakima County charges $56 a day with an additional $5 for medical costs. Ferry County charges $42 a day.

The difference is because corrections officers in Western Washington make more money than many of their counterparts east of the Cascades, said Okanogan jail Chief Corrections Deputy Noah Stewart. In the Okanogan jail, the base starting salary is $27,600 year, compared with about $37,900 in Skagit jail.

The difference in cost to run jails in eastern and western Washington has made for a somewhat unique situation in the state, said said Tony Callisto, president of the 5,000-member American Jail Association.

Usually, jails in the same region have comparable bed rental rates, Callisto said.

Across the nation, crowded conditions, rather than costs, cause jails to send prisoners across county or even state lines, Callisto said.

"Typically, jurisdictions chose to contract in an effort to avoid having to build or expand a jail facility," Callisto said. "For jurisdictions who lodge small numbers of inmates it is usually more cost effective to lodge out than to build and run their own 24-hour jail operation."

For jails in Okanogan, Benton, Ferry and Yakima counties, renting jail beds brings in revenue.

In the case of Yakima County, which 1994 became the first jail in the state to rent beds, contracts with cities, mostly outside the county, amount to three-fourths of the jail's $17.5 million total revenues, corrections Chief Michael Williams said. The county will open its third jail this spring.

"With tax dollars shrinking essentially yearly, it has helped Yakima County offset some of it's costs, thus offset our impact on the local taxpayers," Williams said.

Okanogan County began renting space in its 170-bed jail in the late 1990s. Now, 13 cities in King and Snohomish counties have contracts with the jail, Chief Deputy Stewart said.

Almost a third of the jail's $1.6 million in revenue comes from contracting with other cities, including 13 in Western Washington, Stewart said.

Stewart says he has had inmates from Western Washington thank their police chiefs for sending them to Okanogan County, rather than the crowded local jail.

Part of that may be gratitude for elbow room while in jail. Crowded facilities often lead to a higher level of inmate arguments and fights, corrections officers say.

Okanogan County also provides a great number of services for a small facility, including a full-time chaplain and rehabilitation programs. Corrections officers also allow inmates to call deputies by their first names.

"We just try to get to know people," Stewart said. "They are humans, they are someone's mother, grandmother uncle or dad."
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On September 22, 2003, my better half came home after 657 days in an Alabama prison!!!

And he's now forever free - passing away from this life and into the next - on January 9, 2010.

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January 21, 1954 - January 9, 2010

I'll always love you.
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