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New Thurston County, Washington Jail Finally Opens After Sitting Empty

It didn’t matter that in 2004, the citizens of Thurston County, Washington voted against building a new county jail. In 2010, County Commissioners took it upon themselves to borrow $44 million from county coffers to build the new facility anyway. After five years, the new jail finally opened for business.

“The Thurston County Corrections Facility (TCCF) (known during construction and development as the ARC) has been open since mid-August and our staff are getting settled into their new facility,” wrote Sheriff John Snaza in the Sheriff’s Office December 2015 newsletter. “Referred to around here as simply ‘the jail,’ the TCCF is a state of the art operation that incorporates direct supervision of (prisoners).”

“Direct supervision jails primarily consist of dorms, which are large open rooms with a cluster of bunks surrounding a living area with tables, chairs, and televisions,” Snaza wrote. “A deputy is stationed within the dorm and has visual observation of (prisoners) and maintains the ability to relate to them on a personal level. Placing the deputy in the dorm increases their awareness of the behaviors and needs of the (prisoners).”

“After years of planning and construction, our staff were able to make the move and get the new jail up and running,” wrote County Corrections Bureau Chief Todd Thoma in the same newsletter. “It is exciting to take this great step, but getting here was no easy task.”

“We have a staff of over 115 people who need to learn how to do their jobs in a way that is different from the past and in a facility that only vaguely resembles the facility they’ve been in,” Thoma wrote, “and there’s nearly 350 (prisoners) that need to be securely moved as well as over 60 Correctional Options (prisoners), including work release, day jail, and home monitoring.”

The facility, located in Olympia, Washington, the state capital, sat empty when it was completed, costing taxpayers $400,000 annually just to maintain the jail’s heating and water systems. At the same time, prisoners languished in the old, overcrowded jail with annual upkeep expenditures exceeding $600,000.

Glenn Morgan, a member of the Freedom Foundation watchdog group for the county, called the facility “... a big money pit and a big taxpayer waste of funds....[the] biggest financial mistake Thurston County has ever made.” Morgan said the opening of the new facility follows years of empty promises by the county commissioners to open the new jail.

Ironically, it was the commissioners who approved building the new jail who refused to allocate funds to get the facility up and running, causing no small amount of frustration among county officials.

“We’re upset it’s empty as well,” said Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore after construction was completed in 2014. “We’re anxious to get it open as quickly as possible.”


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