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PLN editor quoted in WA article on budget-induced prison lockdowns

KOMO News, Jan. 1, 2010.
PLN editor quoted in WA article on budget-induced prison lockdowns - KOMO News 2010

Budget woes lead to prison lockdowns

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS Associated Press November 15, 2010

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Prison inmates will do their part to cut the state's budget deficit.

The state Department of Corrections on Tuesday will lock down all eight state prisons for the day, trying out a plan to free up some guards to take unpaid furlough days.

Inmates will be restricted to their cells for the day, except for meals. If Tuesday's experiment works, plans call for similar lockdowns for one day a month through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

"This is just one of many unprecedented steps we're taking to reduce spending and help the state overcome a historic budget crisis," Prisons Director Bernie Warner said. "We have to reduce staffing."

The number of guards in the cell blocks will not be cut, officials said. But the employees who operate and provide security for education programs, drug treatment and work programs starting in December will stay home for a day to save money, Warner said. Gymnasiums, prison libraries and recreation yards will be closed.

Inmates have been told about the lockdown. Some understand the budget concerns, while others are angry about it, said Deputy Prisons Director Dan Pacholke.

Prison officials declined to estimate until after Tuesday's experiment how many workers can stay home and how much money can be saved.

In September, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered 6 percent across-the-board cuts to state agencies to deal with a $520 million deficit. For the Department of Corrections, that meant reducing spending nearly $53 million.

One critic questioned whether the lockdowns would save much money.

"That's a publicity stunt," said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, based in Vermont. "It's their way of trying to scare the public and intimidate people."

He said the Washington Department of Corrections is well-staffed compared with other states. In 2005, the latest year available, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that Washington had one prison guard for every 4.5 inmates. Only Hawaii (3.2), New Mexico (3.9) and Wyoming (3.8) had lower ratios among Western states.

California, which had 6.1 inmates per guard, recently used lockdowns to try and reduce prison costs, but a state judge ruled the practice illegal, Wright said.

Lockdowns typically occur after a fight or other disturbance. Two units of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla went into lockdown over the weekend after a fight that involved 40 inmates.

The prisons in lockdown Tuesday will be the Airway Heights Corrections Center, Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women and Washington State Penitentiary.

While cutting programs that keep prisoners busy may save money in the short term, prison administrators said access to such programs is important to prison safety in the long term.



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