‘I just feel like our arguments and our statistics have fallen on deaf ears within the majority party and in the governor’s office,’ says Schmick
Despite a House Democrat budget proposal that officially wipes Pine Lodge Correction Center off the state budget books, two local legislators aren’t giving up the fight for Eastern Washington’s only minimum-security prison for women.
“We’re down, but not out,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, whose 9th Legislative District boundaries include Medical Lake, where Pine Lodge is located. “We’ve made a very convincing case for the need to keep Pine Lodge open in Eastern Washington. I just feel like our arguments and our statistics have fallen on deaf ears within the majority party and in the governor’s office.”
Schmick, R-Colfax, and Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, met with the governor and Department of Corrections (DOC) chief Eldon Vail last week in an attempt to explain Pine Lodge’s importance to the community and the need for the jobs it provides.
“I know unemployment is high all across this state,” Short said. “But in rural Eastern Washington counties, and specifically in my district, we have some of the highest double-digit unemployment numbers we’ve ever seen. The jobs that will disappear if Pine Lodge closes will have a residual impact on the local economies, further distressing a region that is under serious economic hardship.”
Schmick again stressed the fact that based on DOC’s own capacity forecasts, the state will face serious overcrowding if Pine Lodge is closed.
“I’m a numbers guy,” said Schmick, a farmer, small business owner and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. “The capacity for female inmates is just not there without Pine Lodge. And if you talk to corrections officers they’ll tell you that one of their biggest concerns is overcrowding. It leads to a higher stress level for all and can result in a dangerous environment to both staff and inmates.”
In an effort to address an increasing inmate population, legislation has been introduced to allow early release of non-violent offenders if they have young children. But both Schmick and Short are concerned about balancing the budget by reducing public safety.
“This is both an economic issue and a public safety concern,” Short said. “I think our priorities should be protecting our most vulnerable citizens and keeping our communities safe. We should be able to find efficiencies within the budget rather than risk the health and safety of the general public by releasing criminals early.
“I’d rather see state government get out of the liquor business, the printing business and the information technology business than see us release prisoners early,” continued Short. “There are employers in this state that can provide these services cheaper and more efficiently than government. We should also be looking at a complete freeze of state employee salaries, not just the non-union frontline workers as suggested by the governor.”
Schmick said he and Short would be working hard the last two weeks of session to keep Pine Lodge a viable facility in Eastern Washington.
Schmick noted that Larch Corrections Center in Southwest Washington, with similar community concerns and input, remains open in the House budget, while Pine Lodge got the ax.
“That’s an interesting situation,” Schmick said. “I’m very curious to know what kind of formula was used to make the decision to keep Larch open. They are a mirror image in many ways to Pine Lodge. Was the decision political? Was it based on data that we haven’t seen yet? There are still questions out there that need to be answered before we close the book on Pine Lodge.
“We still have some time left, but we’re certainly approaching the endgame,” Schmick continued. “I just want the folks back home to know that we’re still fighting.”
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