Kristine Schlatter believes state prison system cuts are threatening her ability to go home safely after work to her family.
Schlatter, a cook at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, was one of more than 60 workers from the Connell prison who rallied in Olympia on Thursday to protest state budget cuts they say threaten the safety and security of employees, offenders and the public.
More than 400 state corrections employees marched around the Capitol and held a rally on the Capitol steps, said Paul Zilly, spokesman for Teamsters 117, which represents corrections employees.
Small groups went to talk to legislators, and Zilly said another group took a list to Gov. Chris Gregoire's office of other proposed cuts to DOC that they believe wouldn't compromise safety.
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The Department of Corrections has cut more than $220 million and 1,200 positions and closed two prisons since 2008.
In October, DOC Secretary Eldon Vail said the department would cut another $52.7 million. The state announced in November that it expects to collect $385 million less in revenue by June 30 and $809 million less for the 2011-13 biennium.
DOC cuts include closing McNeil Island Corrections Center by April 1 and having one-day lockdowns each month at the major prisons.
The department also plans to cut almost 300 staff positions and not fill 118 vacant positions. Taking corrections officers out of the prison kitchens by Feb. 1 is one of the cuts.
Schlatter works with inmates, teaching them to prepare meals. She said she is concerned that taking corrections officers out of the kitchen will change how the offenders behave and compromise the safety of kitchen staff.
Schlatter, of Mesa, said she has held her job for 17 years. She hopes that somewhere along the line, one of the men she works with will be able to use cooking experience to get a job and stay out of prison.
Rick Aldrich, Coyote Ridge construction maintenance supervisor, said employees wanted to let the Legislature know that some of the staff and program cuts are threatening safety and security for employees and inmates.
"These guys are not imprisoned here for singing too loud in the choir," he said.
Lockdowns will just make the offenders mad, which could increase incidents, said Aldrich, of Pasco.
Aldrich said the maintenance department has lost two positions so far, but "there's more to come," he said.
Cutting other prison programs such as chemical dependency treatment and education hurt public safety as a whole, he said. "We want to see these offenders not come back," he said.
Aldrich, who has worked at Coyote Ridge for six years, said he feels the prison already is understaffed, with about one corrections officer per 128 offenders, which he said can be an intimidating environment.
Rowlanda Cawthon, DOC spokeswoman, said the 1 to 128 officer-offender ratio is standard statewide.
Coyote Ridge has been gaining new prisoners since the state decided to save money by transferring inmates to the newly expanded prison while closing portions of older prisons. The state also brought back prisoners to Washington who were being held in other states.
Coyote Ridge had 2,279 inmates Thursday and is expected to be near its maximum of 2,648 inmates at the end of the year.
Schlatter said she understands the state needs to make cuts, but said cuts should be made in a way that maintains safety. She also doesn't want to lose wages or benefits.
Some of the proposed cuts include eliminating premium pay for prison staff in Connell, Walla Walla and Monroe.
Prison spokeswoman Cawthon said DOC has n't determined yet exactly what will be cut from each prison, but she said the cuts will be spread out. "It is hard to face for everyone," she said.
Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org