Back in May 2021, the incarcerated community here in Washington began to hear rumblings of a two-phase plan to consolidate and ultimately shut down multiple prisons across Washington state. According to the Department of Corrections (DOC), they had seen a 54% decrease in prison admissions from March 2020 to June 2021 and there were about 4,000 open beds throughout the system as of July 20.
According to the memo, issued in July, the state’s 2021-2023 biennial budget required the department to reduce prison spending by $80 million over the next two years.
Phase one began a few months ago with the closure of seven prisons across Washington state. Another six are on the chopping block for phase two, and three units are being consolidated. “The state must address this capacity issue,” said Cheryl Strange, the DOC secretary.
While the shuttering of prisons and shuffling around of prisoners are hot topics, it is impossible to bring them up without wondering where the $80 million will go.
According to DOC officials, the money will be used to help fund re-entry programs to support offenders transitioning to the outside world.
A re-entry focus yields better results the longer the participants are able to engage in their programs. A person serving a 10-year sentence wouldn’t benefit much from a transition program if it were only accessible for the final six months of their sentence, so the planned program expansion will help.
Unfortunately, most of the closures will be of medium-security units and facilities. These are the places that typically have the most available programming and often serve as a stepping stone to reentry. By contrast, closed-custody facilities have next to no programs available.
On August 12, officials announced that one medium-security prison that will be fully shut down is the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington. This facility is unique in many ways. The number of volunteers here is greater than in all other state facilities combined. It is known for its selection of educational programs and trade schools, including a one-year computer programming course and a construction program. Edmonds College as well as University Beyond Bars hold classes year round.
The state reformatory seems to have been made for rehabilitation rather than punishment, which is what Strange has said is the mission of her department.
Why, then, does it seem that medium-security prisons are being targeted for the shutdown? By offering a few classes to the people who live in those facilities we may be able to get them back on the path to a normal life.
Why not focus the closures on “closed custody” facilities — the prisons that are run to breed hate and violence?
Here we are again, back to where we started. Tasting the bittersweet words from the DOC officials who say they will do their best to help those of us stuck inside.
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.