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More and more every day, inch by inch, society is returning to normal. But even as we all begin to find our footing again in the now almost unfamiliar routine of pre-COVID-19 life, it’s undeniable that significant changes are still taking place due to the residual effects of the virus. 

Here at Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state, we’ve recently been informed of one more change.

On May 25, 2021, an email was sent out on behalf of the state Department of Correction’s Executive Strategy Team naming 12 institutions that will be shutting down permanently. Number one on the list was Washington State Reformatory Monroe Correctional Complex units A, B, C and D, including the reformatory where I currently reside. 

What has caused these shutdowns? And once they’re shut down, what will happen to the money previously used to run these prisons? 

Right now, the Washington State Department of Corrections has a pretty large number of open beds throughout the state. According to the DOC, as of July 20, 2021, only 4,000 of the 17,000 available prison beds in the system were filled. 

The largest contributing factor to the thinning prison population has been a decline in referrals and sentencing by local courts mainly due to COVID-19. Other factors include population reduction efforts, furloughs and commutations.

Basically, these prisons are being shut down because they are no longer needed. According to the DOC’s executive strategy team the money will fund programs of reentry and other supportive resources. That’s pretty great news. 

The email from May 25 stated, “Science supports the concept that people are more successful when they transition into a community and are supported by resources before, during and after that transition. Our agency is dedicated to a reentry focus.

There was also talk of expanding “lesser custody” programs like the Graduated Reentry Program, which lets qualified inmates finish their sentences at home or in sober living environments as long as they wear an electronic ankle monitor.

Even though there still may be bureaucratic hoops to jump through, I can’t help but feel a little hopeful. 

We’ve all known for some time that something has to be done about our prison system. The revolving door it has become will not fix itself any time soon as is reflected in our country’s recidivism rate. But knowing that something has to be done and actually doing something are two very different things.

This decision by the DOC is a step in the right direction — a step, I hope, on the path to progress.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jonathan Loppnow is a writer who has been published in I-writer and Grey Journal Magazine. His first book, "Reichsfall: A Change in The Wind," was co-published with author John Saxon, and he is currently writing his first stand-alone novel, “The Fourth Rikai.” Jonathan began his career as a technical writer after studying business at San Jose Vocational College in Fresno, Calif. He is incarcerated in Washington.