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News Spotlight: Update - Prison Bed Consolidation and Unit Closures

Published July 20, 2021, Updated July 28, 2021

About

In May 2021, the Department of Corrections (DOC) shared a draft proposal for the closure of units within prison facilities. Several factors have contributed to the proposal including:

  • The expansion of community-based reentry programs and the State v. Blake court decision.
  • Corrections has seen a 54% decrease in prison admissions from March 2020 to June 2021 compared to the same time frames in 2019 and 2020.
  • Of the 17,000 total prison beds statewide, approximately 4,000 are empty as of July 20, 2021, and that number is expected to grow.
  • All budgets, including the 2021-2023 biennial budget, passed by the Legislature, and signed by Governor Inslee, require the department to reduce prison spending by $80 million over the next two years.
  • With a significant increase in the number of vacant beds, the state must address this unfunded capacity issue now.

Phased Approach

Due to a range of complexity among facilities, a phased approach is being used:

  • First Step - a consolidation of units within facilities,
  • Phase 1 - low-impact closures, and
  • Phase 2 - high-impact closures.

Each phase addresses a different level and approach to consolidations and closures and will involve meetings with key groups and stakeholders. The department will reach out to stakeholders to hear comments as we progress through each phase.

Phase Two conversations with impacted stakeholders will start in early August with the Monroe Correctional Complex, which has the largest staff and incarcerated population currently under consideration. We will be having discussions with staff and labor partners, incarcerated individuals, families, advocacy groups, volunteers, and elected leaders connected to all impacted facilities.

Monroe Correctional Complex Stakeholder Meetings – Thursday, August 5, 2021

5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Families, Community-based Organizations and others

DOC is inviting families, community-based organizations and others who are interested in participating in an open virtual listening session to discuss the potential closure of units at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

  • Participate via Microsoft Teams, click here to join the meeting
  • To call in by phone (audio only): (564)-999-2000, 576791864# Phone Conference ID: 576 791 864#
6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – State and Local Elected Officials, City and County employees and others

DOC is inviting state and local elected officials, city and county employees and others who are interested in participating in an open virtual listening session to discuss the potential closure of units at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

  • Participate via Microsoft Teams, click here to join the meeting
  • To call in by phone (audio only): (564)-999-2000, 41194925# Phone Conference ID: 411 949 25#

The decision to make any closures is difficult, but a necessary one. Corrections has received input from staff, incarcerated individuals and their families, labor leaders, elected officials, community leaders and many other stakeholders. The issues are complex, individualized, and require us to consider impacts, mitigate them and come up with the best possible solution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why are prison unit consolidations and closures proposed and under discussion?

The department has seen a 54% decrease in prison admissions from March 2020 to June 2021 compared to the same time frames in 2019 and 2020. Of the 17,000 total prison beds statewide, approximately 4,000 are empty as of July 20, 2021, and that number is expected to grow.

The decrease is partially due to earlier diversions, interventions, and treatments, as well as a strong focus on expanding community-based reentry programs allowing individuals to safely transition back to their home community. Impactful court decisions such as State v. Blake and innovative, less restrictive programs such as graduated reentry (GRE) could further reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in the state’s care and custody in the future.

All budgets, including the 2021-2023 biennial budget, passed by the Legislature, and signed by the Governor, require the department to reduce prison spending by $80 million over the next two years. By the State Constitution, the department must operate within the legislative appropriation. With a significant increase in the number of vacant beds, the state must address this unfunded vacant bed issue now.

I’ve heard the term warm closure. What does the term mean?

Warm closure means a unit could be closed to reduce open and unneeded bed capacity yet reopened later, if needed. Utilities are still available in the units but they are not staffed and no one lives in them.

Is potential impact on staff and incarcerated individuals being considered as one of the criteria the department is using to determine unit closures and consolidations?

Yes. Our criteria for decision-making are based on finding unit closures and consolidations that have the least impact on staff, incarcerated individuals and their families, and minimize negative effects on programs, education, healthcare, and other critical services.

Will all the closures and consolidations happen at the same time?

No. A phased approach is being used:

  • First Step - a consolidation of units within facilities,
  • Phase 1 - low-impact closures, and
  • Phase 2 - high-impact closures.

What do consolidations and eventual closures mean for incarcerated individuals, including mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment and other programming?

We are approaching this challenge with a specific objective of limiting impacts, to the extent possible, for incarcerated individuals and their family and support systems. These efforts will include a goal to minimize transfers. The department will continue with access to programming, academic and vocational education, substance use treatment, sex offender treatment, cognitive behavioral and violence reduction, cultural and religious programming, visitation, and religious practices.

What do consolidations and eventual closures mean for staff?

One of the department’s key priorities is mitigating impacts to staff. Any decisions on unit closures will work to limit impacts to permanent employees. Hiring freezes in the Prisons Division are already in place, which will mean fewer staff will be impacted. The department intends to manage any reduction in staff over time through a phased in approach; not filling existing vacancies, using natural attrition, and creating opportunities for new roles for staff within the department.

Does the department have more correctional officers than it needs?

No. Through May 2021, the department loses more staff than it can retain. As of May 2021, the department has over 180 correctional officer vacancies statewide. The state must keep the correctional facilities appropriately staffed to maintain safe prisons, and the number of vacancies is increasing the amount of overtime costs paid by the state.

What does a consolidation mean?

Consolidations involve moving incarcerated individuals into other living units within a prison facility. Staff are redeployed, but staffing levels are not reduced. Living units are consolidated or combined within a prison and may involve use of double beds versus single beds where appropriate. This could occur immediately and allow us to reduce high levels of overtime, some of which is mandatory and decrease the impact of staff vacancies at facilities. Incarcerated individuals will not be transferred due to consolidation but may be transferred due to housing classification per DOC policies and procedures.

What units are being consolidated?

What does the Phase One low-impact closures mean?

Phase one closures are defined as shutting down a unit and reducing the associated staffing. We will be utilizing reassignments and redeployments temporarily wherever possible to minimize staff impacts and will be engaging in our collective bargaining obligations with our labor partners. Incarcerated individuals will not be transferred to other facilities due solely to unit closures but may be transferred as a result of normal prison operations such as housing classification policies and procedures, or their request if approved.

What units are considered for the Phase One closures?

What does the Phase Two closures mean?

This phase involves closing units which would likely have impacts and that is why we needed to take time to examine data and concerns. Due to the individualized and varying factors and complexity, Monroe is included in this phase, but several others such as Larch, Coyote Ridge or Stafford Creek are also under consideration. Issues at these facilities could impact staffing and incarcerated individuals and their families. We are sensitive to these impacts and thus have allowed for more time to listen and gather stakeholder input in the coming months for the best decisions when made, as well as the best approach. Our goal is to mitigate impacts by working with our labor partners and community stakeholders.

What units are proposed for Phase Two closures?

Have stakeholders been given the opportunity to provide feedback?

Yes. Phase Two conversations with impacted stakeholders will start in early August with the Monroe Correctional Complex, which has the largest staff and incarcerated population currently under consideration. We will be having discussions with staff and labor partners, incarcerated individuals, families, advocacy groups, volunteers, and elected leaders connected to all impacted facilities.

Monroe Correctional Complex Stakeholder Meetings – Thursday, August 5, 2021

5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Families, Community-based Organizations and others

DOC is inviting families, community-based organizations and others who are interested in participating in an open virtual listening session to discuss the potential closure of units at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

  • Participate via Microsoft Teams, click here to join the meeting
  • To call in by phone (audio only): (564)-999-2000, 576791864# Phone Conference ID: 576 791 864#
6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – State and Local Elected Officials, City and County employees and others

DOC is inviting state and local elected officials, city and county employees and others who are interested in participating in an open virtual listening session to discuss the potential closure of units at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

  • Participate via Microsoft Teams, click here to join the meeting
  • To call in by phone (audio only): (564)-999-2000, 41194925# Phone Conference ID: 411 949 25#

The department reviews and evaluates received correspondence, such as emails and letters, as well as calls. Stakeholder input from incarcerated individuals, families, unions, elected leaders and nonprofit organizations has been very helpful to the department staff as we work to find solutions for the best outcomes and support the success of those under our jurisdiction.

Where can I provide comments, input, and questions?

You can send questions and comments to DOC Reentry Expansion.