Friday, May 27, 2016

Some rural jails and prisons are badly outdated and cramped, but building new facilities is costly

Some jails and prisons that rural areas rely on for much-needed revenue and jobs are badly outdated and cramped, Phil Ferolito reports for the Yakima Herald. One example is in Wapato, Wash. (Best Places map) where a National Institute of Corrections report requested by Police Chief Rick Needham showed that poor conditions at the municipal jail put inmates and guards in danger.

The jail, built in 1909, has twice as many inmates as it can house safely, Ferolito writes. Some inmates are kept "in small, dark cells crowded with bunks two and three high. There are no windows, tables or common area. Inmates are forced to eat and read on their bunks." Needham, who last year took over as police chief of the town of 5,040, told Ferolito, “I found it quite disturbing. It’s nothing I ever experienced. I don’t believe it can be retrofitted to meet current standards. There are liabilities in keeping this place the way it is.”

A new jail would cost millions, Ferolito writes. "On top of that, most of the jail’s inmates are from other communities, from as far as Puget Sound, who are housed under contracts that generate revenue the city has come to rely on to run the jail. Many of those contracts recently dissolved when other, less expensive jails became available. That’s creating a potential budget shortfall for jail operations, which typically cost about $900,000 a year. Contracts until recently generated about half that, from $450,000 to $475,000 a year."

A quick walk through Wapato's jail us alarming, Ferolito writes. "Wiring harnessed together with plastic ties runs along wall and ceiling corners without being enclosed in conduit. Holes have been punched through heavy concrete walls to allow wiring to pass through. A narrow hallway leading to cells snakes through the structure. Corridor and cell doors are equipped with manual locks that require a key. A few small cells hold four to six inmates each, while a larger one measuring 12 by 14 feet contained nine bunks." Needham told Ferolito, “Could you imagine the trouble a corrections officer would have manually unlocking all those doors if there was a fire?”

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