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May 22, 2007 - Seattle Times (WA)

Shortage Of Corrections Officers Ends Jail-Space Deal

By Jennifer Sullivan and Christopher Schwarzen

A plan to reopen a corrections facility near Arlington to free up space for state parole violators in the Snohomish County Jail was dropped Monday after officials could hire only one of the 35 officers needed to staff the new facility.

The decision comes three months after the Department of Corrections (DOC) faced severe criticism from state lawmakers and Gov. Christine Gregoire for releasing parole violators from county jails because of overcrowding. In February, the DOC released more than 80 inmates from two King County jails and the Snohomish County Jail because the agency had exceeded its allotted capacity at the facilities.

In response, Gregoire scolded the agency and forbade them from releasing parole violators because of overcrowding.

Gary Larson, a DOC spokesman, said top DOC administrators will meet this week to consider other parole violator housing options.

Under an agreement between Snohomish County and the DOC, "The Ridge" - -- formerly known as Indian Ridge Corrections Center -- was going to reopen this summer and house nearly 180 minimum-security inmates from the county jail in Everett. This would free up space for DOC community corrections, or parole, violators at the county jail.

The Ridge closed in 2005 when Snohomish County opened a new jail.

But on Monday, Snohomish County officials announced that the facility won't reopen because they couldn't find enough people to staff it.

"The state Department of Corrections gave us about 250 names [from a job bank]," Snohomish County Corrections Director Steve Thompson said. "We were able to hire only one."

The county needed about 35 officers to run The Ridge. Thompson said nearly 60 names provided by DOC didn't have contact information. The remainder were personally contacted either by telephone or e-mail and invited to a job fair to begin the application process.

He said only a handful of potential corrections officers showed up.

By not reopening the jail, Snohomish County will lose out on about $1 million in potential revenues from a contract with the state. Larson said the entire state is struggling to fill law-enforcement jobs.

Law-enforcement agencies cite a strong economy filled with high-paying jobs and potential candidates fighting the war in Iraq as reasons they are struggling to find new officers.

Larson said losing The Ridge has created a large problem for DOC's strategy for housing inmates.

"We were looking at this as a longer-term potential solution to the problem of finding adequate space for community custody violators," Larson said.

Since February, the agency has been freeing up space in prisons for such inmates. About 27,200 people are on community corrections release in the state. Offenders who violate the terms of their prison release can face punishment varying from increased reporting and mandatory drug treatment to 60 days in jail.

Hundreds of inmates sentenced to long-term prison time have been shipped to out-of-state facilities to make room. The DOC is contracting with the Yakima County Jail and is looking to increase its allotted bed space there for parole violators.

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