West Seattle jail-site-fight postscript: City/county long-term deal

April 14, 2011 at 11:13 am | In West Seattle jail sites, West Seattle news | Comments Off

Just a few years ago, the Highland Park Action Committee led the fight against what originally were two possible sites in West Seattle for a new city jail – which was said to be necessary because the county would soon be unable to house city inmates. The plan eventually was dropped, but there remained the lingering possibility a city facility might be needed. A deal announced this morning appears to shelve that potential need for at least twenty years – news release after the jump:

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn
today announced a long-term agreement in principle for use of the King County Jail
as the primary provider of bed space for the City’s misdemeanor inmates over the
next two decades.

“With the County jail next door to the City’s courts, it just makes sense for us to
provide space for City inmates awaiting trial,” said Executive Constantine. “We’ve
worked hard to create a durable agreement that keeps costs down and protects the
public, and I thank the Mayor and City Council for their partnership.”

“Over the past year, I have heard concerns from the community about holding inmates
outside of the city,” said Mayor McGinn. “I looked at the books and spoke with the
County Executive. This new deal saves Seattle money and supports a more equitable
environment for public defenders and low-income inmates.”

The statement of principles signed by the Executive and Mayor, for negotiation of a
new Jail Services Agreement, calls for:

* A commitment from King County to provide Seattle with up to 228 jail bed
spaces in 2012, rising to 335 by 2030.

* Reasonable and predictable fees for services that financially benefit both
jurisdictions.

* A commitment to work together on diversion, alternatives, other population
management mechanisms, and population forecasting.

The agreement in principle maintains significant operational advantages well into
the future for Seattle’s courts, law enforcement, and attorneys. The downtown
Seattle location of the County’s correctional facility is adjacent to the City’s
municipal justice center and is thus uniquely positioned to house the City’s
pretrial inmates.

“The proposed jail services agreement is ideal for the City because it utilizes the
jail facility closest to our courts,” said Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess,
chair of the Council’s Public Safety and Education Committee. “It’s also good for
taxpayers, who won’t be asked to build a new jail-at a cost of nearly $200
million-for at least twenty more years.”

Last May, the City ended its process of siting a new regional municipal jail for
misdemeanor offenders after receiving commitments for the housing of city inmates
from the County from 2017 to 2020. Today’s action calls for negotiations on an
agreement to extend the duration of that commitment from 2012 to 2030.

For the County, the agreement in principle provides for predictable use of its jail
capacity, leading to greater operational efficiency through economies of scale.

“A lasting partnership between the City and the County allows us to make the most of
our existing facilities and work together to find efficiencies that keep our
detention facilities safe and affordable,” said County Councilmember Bob Ferguson,
Chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “This
agreement is the culmination of continued efforts by King County and Seattle to find
a cooperative solution for our area’s long-term jail space needs.”

The statement of principles reflects the long-standing interest by the City and the County in a wide variety of diversion, alternative and re-entry programs. These programs ensure efficient use of public funds by safely keeping low-risk populations out of jail so that capacity is available for those who pose a serious risk to public safety. Through the proposed agreement, the City and County would maintain and strengthen their collaboration on diversion, alternative and re-entry programs as well as on jail population forecasting.

“This is a winning agreement for all,” said King County Council Chair Larry Gossett. “The agreement makes the best use of our county’s resources as well as providing for long-term security for our residents by using alternatives to incarceration. King County and Seattle officials agree that alternatives such as mental health and drug court, relicensing programs and community correction programs are more effective than incarceration. It has been this paradigm shift that has been most effective in keeping our jail population down and using our money for treatment rather than building new jails.”

The principles outline unique mechanisms that allow for flexibility by both jurisdictions to accommodate changes in jail population forecasts and contracting. These mechanisms would help ensure that enough capacity is available in the long term, that new capacity is not built unless needed, and that, if jail populations decline, neither jurisdiction would face ongoing, unmitigated financial consequences.

When fully developed under the terms of today’s agreement in principle, the Executive and Mayor expect to formally transmit the proposed new Jail Services Agreement to their respective County and City Councils by June 15.

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