State policy change dings county jails, but not Issaquah facility

September 11, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Officials said a recent change in state policy means fewer inmates in King County-run jails — and $9.4 million less for county jails next year due to fewer bookings from the state Department of Corrections.

King County officials said the drop contributes to a projected $13 million shortfall next year in revenues to support operations at the King County Jail in Seattle and the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. The shortfall could lead officials to eliminate 40 or more positions in the proposed 2013 jail budget.

The state corrections agency contracts with the county to house thousands of felons released from prison who then violated their conditions of release. The so-called “DOC violators” go back to jail to await administrative hearings.

Since 2008, King County booked 6,844 inmates per year on average, and held about 330 per day.

Revenue from contracts with other jurisdictions helps support fixed costs at the King County Jail and the Maleng Regional Justice Center.

Under the “swift and certain” law enacted by state legislators in April, the punishment for parole violations happens more quickly, resulting in much shorter jail stays and reduced usage of county jails.

“The state’s latest policy change — the new ‘swift and certain’ program to address parole violators — certainly seems to be promising public policy, but the loss of nearly $10 million in expected state revenues in one year is simply too much for us to make up through savings or efficiencies,” Claudia Balducci, county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention director, said in a statement.

No impact expected at Issaquah Jail

Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers said the change in state policy should not impact the Issaquah Jail.

The city jail mostly handles misdemeanor offenders arrested by Issaquah officers and sentenced through Issaquah Municipal Court. The city jail does not process a significant amount of DOC violators.

“If they’re ours and it’s a misdemeanor, we’re going to hold them anyway, even if we find a violation today and it’s a month down the road before the court acts, we’d still hold them in our jail if it’s a misdemeanor,” Ayers said.

The city operates a 62-bed jail in the basement of City Hall. Prisoners come from Issaquah and contract cities throughout the region.

“We really have kind of a luxury having our own jail,” Ayers said. “Our prisoners — we’ve got a jail cell for them anyway. We don’t have to wait. We don’t have to pay.”

The budget proposal from the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention could outline 40 or more position reductions for next year. The figure includes 20 vacant positions or positions expected to be vacant by year’s end.

Balducci said she should be able to manage staffing to minimize the need for layoffs.

The department has the equivalent of 939.5 full-time positions — including 540.5 corrections officers — and a budget of $130.2 million

Balducci said the county jail system is implementing numerous savings and efficiencies, including some suggested by employees, to help avoid potential layoffs.

The savings include staffing changes to reduce the cost impact of inmates with severe and more expensive needs, such as psychiatric conditions; saving $14,000 a year by replacing bottled water with filtered water; and delaying purchases if possible.

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