Yakima County stands to lose a contract with the state to house female inmates because of complaints about “awful” conditions at the county jail.
About 10 to 15 inmates — five of them from the state — have been sleeping on the floor because of overcrowding caused by a project to renovate showers. To make way for the project, a 24-bed dormitory had to be closed three weeks ago and its inmates were crowded into other dorms as a result.
Last week, 14 families of the 47 female state inmates incarcerated at the jail fired off a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, complaining about overcrowding and urging him to stop the transfer of inmates to the county’s main jail downtown.
Responding to the complaints, Inslee on Monday said that he’s looking for an alternative location for the state inmates housed in Yakima under contract.
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Last biennium, the Legislature approved $479,000 in 2016 and another $1.4 million in 2017 for a contract with the county to house state offenders in an effort to alleviate overcrowding problems at state prisons.
“The Yakima facility isn’t an ideal or preferred facility and, had the Legislature not required this, we would have looked at other options — and are, in fact, looking at other options right now as we develop the governor’s 2017 budget proposal,” said Jaime Smith, Inslee’s communications director in Olympia.
The state’s contract with the county doesn’t expire until June 2017, and it’s too early to know whether the contract will be renewed or given to another facility elsewhere, said state Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay.
“That contract provides us with the capacity we need,” he said. “I think, very reflective of the governor’s comments, we’re always looking out for the best options for our inmates.”
Yakima County Department of Corrections Lt. Marta Keagle, who oversees female prisoners at the jail, said the inmates sleeping on the floor have been given plastic beds called boats with mattresses placed on top.
“So they’re not in direct contact with the floor,” she said.
The shower upgrade project began about three weeks ago and is expected to be complete within 45 days, she said.
State correction, officials have visited the jail monthly and are aware of the shower project and inmates sleeping on the floor, Keagle said.
Barclay said his department recently learned of the inmates sleeping on the floor.
“We have contacted the jail to immediately fix the problem,” Barclay said. “We continue to dialog with them, and we continue to monitor and work with them.”
Yakima County Department of Corrections Director Ed Campbell said he’s yet to receive a bad review from state correction officials about the contract.
“The reviews and feedback by state correctional staff have always been favorable,” Campbell said.