OLYMPIA -- Inmates in Connell will continue to manufacture textiles, despite a new law prohibiting them from making uniforms for correctional officers.
But inmates in Walla Walla may not be as lucky, according to a Correctional Industries spokesperson.
At Connell's Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, 100 inmates working for Correctional Industries manufacture uniforms for correctional officers across the state.
But a bill passed by the House and Senate prohibits manufacturing of the uniforms starting July 1. Instead, officers could purchase uniforms from private companies.
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Lyle Morse, director of Correctional Industries, told the Herald that inmates will continue to produce textiles other than correctional officer uniforms at Coyote Ridge. These textiles include linens, uniforms worn by other state employees, such as ferry workers, and clothes worn by inmates.
To replace the 100 jobs eliminated at Coyote Ridge by the bill, Correctional Industries may consider closing textile operations at other correctional centers, Morse said.
The Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Airway Heights Corrections Center west of Spokane, and Clallam Bay Corrections Center in northeast Washington produce textiles through Correctional Industries.
Morse said it is too early to tell which -- if any -- textile facilities will close, but he is certain inmates will lose jobs.
Morse said he will not ask Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto the bill. Instead, he is waiting to see if lawmakers fail to allocate $311,000 in the supplemental operating budget for uniform stipends, without which the bill becomes void.
The most recent budget proposal, by Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, includes the funding, but lawmakers have not agreed on a final budget.
With the funding, the Department of Corrections will provide officers with a $240 annual stipend to purchase uniforms.
But as officers discover the real price of buying, tailoring and laundering outside of Correctional Industries, Morse said he expects officers will request larger stipends.
Correctional Industries' uniform lease program costs the same as the proposed stipend and includes on-site tailoring and laundering, he said.
Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, sponsored the bill after several correctional officers came to her with complaints about the quality of their uniforms.
At public hearings on the bill, officers testified that uniforms fit poorly, colors faded quickly and buttons fell off.
Some officers said inmates intentionally sewed the buttons on the female officer shirts farther apart so that inmates could see the undergarments of the officers.
Morse said most of the claims about poor quality were unfounded, and Correctional Industries has addressed issues about fit, fading and buttons with new machinery and manufacturing procedures.
Walsh told the Herald that, regardless of quality, inmates should not be making the uniforms in the first place, for reasons of officer morale and safety.
"The uniform issue is simply a matter where you have inmates making uniforms for the guards that are guarding them -- and that is not good policy," Walsh said.
Morse said the issue is about perspective, not policy.
Inmate-made license plates do not demean drivers, so inmate-made uniforms should not demean officers, he said.
-- Eric Francavilla, a Herald intern from Washington State University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.