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Airway Heights Opens

The Spokane Spokesman Review reports that on July 15, 1994, the 1,024 bed Airway Heights Correctional Center (AHCC) officially opened near Spokane, Washington, by accepting its first 40 medium security prisoners. The prison cost Washington state tax payers $113 million to build and was slated to open in November, 1993. In order to save money the state delayed opening it until first April, then November, 1994. By opening it ahead of that schedule the state spent an extra $5 million, according to associate superintendent Al Ramos. The prison's minimum security camp was closed and its 256 prisoners moved into the prison. The camp closure was supposedly to "save money." Yet it indicates an over classification of prisoners.

AHCC is scheduled to be expanded with two additional living units added by 1997. This will increase the numbers of beds to 1,900. The Washington DOC is currently at 141% of its rated capacity. Mandatory sentences, longer sentences, "3 strikes you're out" sentences and reductions in early release time have all contributed to prison overcrowding in Washington state. According to DOC boss Chase Riveland, Washington will need to keep building and opening a new 1,900 bed prison every 27 months just to keep up with the growing prison population.

Initiative 601, which limits tax increases and expenditures will significantly reduce the state's ability to pay for prison building. The initiative caps growth in state spending but doesn't take into account prison population growth. "Whatever we spend on corrections means there will be less to spend on everything else. " Riveland said.

A PLN reader recently transferred to AHCC states that the first chain of prisoners to arrive on July 15, 1994, was told they would have to ship out half their property because there was "no storage space" in the new prison. No fans were allowed. Some 150 WSP prisoners are scheduled to go to AHCC. It appears that eventually AHCC will house long term "minimum security" prisoners.

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