West Seattle jail-site fight: New city study out today

August 6, 2009 9:12 pm
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The planning process for a potential new municipal misdemeanor-offender jail to serve Seattle and several other King County cities has been proceeding fairly quietly, but proceeding nonetheless. West Marginal Way/Highland Park Way remains one of the sites on the list. Now, the City Council has released results of a study they ordered on whether drug treatment and other diversions could reduce the need for jail beds – read on for their news release, plus links to two documents related to the report itself:

First, the toplines, in the city news release:

Today, the Seattle City Council released a jail capacity study that it had requested through a Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) during last fall’s budget deliberations. The SLI asked city policy analysts to assess whether the city’s use of jail beds could be reduced by adopting more treatment-focused approaches for lower-level drug offenders.

The study analyzes changes in Seattle corrections policy for lower-level drug offenders and the likely effects those changes would have on jail use. It looked at providing new treatment services to all of Seattle’s current drug offenders and evaluated reducing jail time for Seattle’s lower-level drug offenders.

On their own, these approaches are unlikely to offer Seattle and other cities in the north and east sectors of the county, reductions that would significantly alter jail planning efforts. Lead time required for jail planning is approximately seven years.

By law, cities are responsible for the cost of jailing individuals arrested for misdemeanors within their jurisdiction. Currently, Seattle, along with most other cities in the county, meets these obligations by contracting for jail space from King County. The county is legally responsible for the cost of jailing individuals arrested for felonies (including most drug offenses) and felons sentenced to serve up to one year.

Prior to the study, King County informed Seattle that it would not extend its jail space contract beyond 2012 because its projections indicated the county would need those jail beds for its own inmates.

Final comments from the Jail Capacity Advisory Group will be included as an addendum to the study. The Advisory Group is comprised of numerous leaders from the criminal justice field. Their input and review helped inform the staff analysis. The Council’s Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee will review the report at its Sept. 15 meeting.

Here are two documents sent along with that news release:
Jail capacity study memo
Jail capacity “fact sheet”

The overall status of the Seattle/”northeastern cities” jail-site-search process is here; it also addresses the more recent discussion that King County might offer an extension to 2015. According to the timeline on the website, a draft environmental-impact statement isn’t expected before December, and public meetings would be scheduled early next year. P.S. City Councilmember Tim Burgess published reaction to this on his website, saying he believes Seattle should not build its own new jail – but should continue working with others in the region, and that King County should continue to be the service provider.

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