After meeting for 18 months, a commission formed to evaluate Clark County’s options for its antiquated jail approved its final report Wednesday afternoon. While the document answers key questions, it stops short of laying out a clear course of action for the county.
Craig Pridemore, the commission’s chair and CEO of Columbia River Mental Health Services, praised the group’s work but said he was disappointed in the report that will be forwarded to the Clark County Council.
“Being real honest, I really wish that we had been able to come to a very clear direction that the county could pursue,” said Pridemore. In hindsight, he said, he realized answering that question would require significant political will, which he said is “just not what this committee has before it.”
The commission, comprised of elected and other community leaders, was created in response to a consultant’s report that found that the jail would need to add 467 new jail beds and nearly triple in size to meet modern incarceration practices. As the commission dug into its work, it extended its timeframe while it considered additional questions.
However, as the commission approached the conclusion of its work, its members realized that the two options under consideration were too expensive and would more than double the cost of housing one inmate.
During the meeting, Pridemore said there was plenty in the report that helps move the county toward a final solution.
The report states that the lack of space in the current jail creates operational challenges and that its aging facilities are becoming inadequate.
“An improved jail solution for Clark County is plainly necessary,” reads the report.
It recommends that a new facility last for 30 years and be structured in a way to provide more inmate programs aimed at reducing recidivism while addressing the complexity of health-related challenges experienced by inmates.
Included in the report is a key finding that both the current location on West 13th Street and the work center on Northwest Lower River Road could serve as possible sites for a future jail. However, using the work center as the primary jail facility is “impracticable due to the inherent expense and logistical challenges.” The report also found that an estimated 850 to 880 jail beds are needed through 2050, assuming that policies are in place to ease demand for jail beds.
Early on, the commission embraced the direct supervision model of inmates, where corrections officers are embedded with the jail’s population. But after realizing the cost associated with implementing the model, the commission’s report recommends the new facility use direct supervision “where financially feasible.”
As for the cost, the report recommends the county retain an outside professional to find further cost-reduction opportunities and to consider remodeling the existing jail. The report recommends continued engagement between stakeholders and recommends the Law and Justice Council serve as that forum. Additionally, it acknowledges the challenge that “any jail improvement project will likely rely on financing tools that require voter approval” and will have an impact on taxpayers.
Several amendments were made to the report, including over the wording and description of the jail’s facilities and inmate care. Another amendment was prompted by Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, who asked that language about the legal risk to the county be removed because it was outside the purview of the commission.
However, the liability to the county was referenced in a letter from Kimberly Mosolf, director of the treatment facilities program at Disability Rights Washington, presented to the commission. The advocacy group has brought litigation against local governments over the treatment of inmates. Notably, Disability Rights Washington was a plaintiff in the Trueblood lawsuit against the state that prompted an overhaul of its mental health system.
In her letter, Mosolf, a member of the commission who was unable to attend the meeting, wrote that Disability Rights Washington approved of the report, noting that it prioritized “inmate health, improved housing conditions, and access to treatment and services.”
“However, DRW does want to ensure that the County Council understands the ongoing liabilities of keeping the jail in its present condition, or making minor changes that do not meet statutory and constitutional requirements,” Mosolf wrote.