KENNEWICK — Benton County's offer of rooms to rent in the jail has found a taker.
The South Correctional Entity, a governmental administrative entity in Western Washington representing seven cities, needs some rent-a-cells for the next six months until a new jail being built in Des Moines is ready for occupancy.
Benton County commissioners this week approved a contract to provide 50 beddays for 183 days to the group at a negotiated daily rate of $66.
The contract is expected to bring Benton County about $604,000, and it comes at a good time.
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The city of Olympia had been one of the outside contract users of Benton County's jail from 2003 until January.
Larry Taylor, who retired as sheriff in January, learned last November that Olympia officials were not renewing their contract, which had been worth $518,000 a year, calculated on a daily bed rate of $57.
Taylor said he expected some other agency would call for the rented cells. Some were expected to be reserved by the U.S. Marshal's Office and the state Department of Corrections.
Soon after new Sheriff Steve Keane took office in January, he began looking for another jail tenant. Signing the contract with the South Correctional Entity takes up the slack created by the loss of Olympia's inmates, at least until September.
Keane said that the jail capacity is about 720, depending on the classification of inmates, and about 500 cells need to be reserved for Benton County prisoners. That leaves 220 cells available for outside use.
The Department of Corrections had 132 inmates housed in the jail this week, and another 82 inmates were from the U.S. Marshal's Office, Keane said. The 50 additional inmates from the South Correctional Entity will fill the remaining cells, he said.
"It's a good deal for us," Keane said, noting that renting jail cells not only helps the county recover jail operational costs, but also keeps down costs to the cities in Benton County, which pay a day-rate based on how many prisoners they send to jail.
Keane said the $66 day rate for the South Correctional Entity was determined by adding in transportation expenses that include rising fuel costs.
Some of the costs of transporting inmates to and from Kennewick from Western Washington will be shared by those partner communities, which are Renton, SeaTac, Tukwila, Federal Way, Des Moines, Burien and Auburn.
Penny Bartley, director for the South Correctional Entity, said the cities needed to find a short-term solution to housing inmates because their previous contract for cells in Yakima County expired at the end of 2010.
The seven cities currently need to hold 400 inmates daily, and their jails are severely overcrowded. The new jail in Des Moines is being built for 813 inmates, Bartley said.
"We expect that it will last us 20 years," she said.
* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; email@example.com