Larch Corrections to stay open

Department of Corrections decides to close McNeil Island

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After enduring almost a year of uncertainty, supporters of the Larch Corrections Center are welcoming the news that the minimum-security facility will remain open.

The State Department of Corrections announced Friday it would close McNeil Island Corrections Center by April 1 as a result of budget cuts. The agency had originally planned to close Larch, but determined that doing so would not save enough money.

The DOC said it will save $6.3 million each year by closing McNeil, a prison located on an island in south Puget Sound. It would have saved $2 million by closing Larch.

The agency must reduce spending by nearly $53 million as a result of across-the-board cuts due to declining tax revenue.

“This will save the most money without compromising the safety of our staff, the offenders and the public,” said DOC Secretary Eldon Vail. “The budget crisis is causing us to make some of the most painful decisions in our agency’s history.”

Corrections officials said there will be enough beds in 12 prisons to house the 16,000 offenders who are currently incarcerated.

Larch, located in Yacolt, is expected to go back to full capacity and house 480 offenders. It currently has approximately 240 offenders.

“Closing McNeil Island and bringing Larch back up to full capacity is the right thing to do,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama). “Our analysis showed this would bring the greatest cost savings, and we’re glad the department recognized this and made the right decision.

“This is a win for Southwest Washington and was a true bipartisan effort,” he added. “Southwest Washington lawmakers from both parties worked together to protect Larch – actions which helped lead DOC to this decision.”

Local officials, including East County Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Koehler, signed a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire in January, indicating support to retain the personnel and Department of Natural Resources fire fighting equipment at Larch. Other signatures were provided by Camas Fire Chief Leo Leon, Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher, Camas Mayor Paul Dennis, Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, the Clark County commissioners, and officials from Battle Ground and Yacolt, as well as Clark County Fire Districts 2, 6, 10 and 13.

Over the past year, the DOC has downsized McNeil Island from a medium-security prison that houses 1,200 offenders to a minimum-security prison that currently houses approximately 515 offenders. There are about 245 staff members who work at the prison.

Vail acknowledged the impact of the closure on the McNeil staff and their families would be “enormous.”

“We will do all we possibly can to find them positions elsewhere in the agency,” he said. “It’s a talented group of people, so we want to retain as many as we can.”

Earlier this year, the DOC closed two minimum-security prisons – Ahtanum View Corrections Center, in Yakima; and Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, near Spokane.