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Originally published October 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 31, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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"Prison within prison" opens in Monroe

State corrections officials on Tuesday unveiled a nearly $40 million "prison within a prison" for some of the state's most violent and dangerous...

Seattle Times staff reporter

MONROE — State corrections officials on Tuesday unveiled a nearly $40 million "prison within a prison" for some of the state's most violent and dangerous offenders.

The building on the grounds of the sprawling Monroe Correctional Complex gives the state's largest prison 200 new beds for inmates serving solitary confinement. The building will house the 100-bed Intensive Management Unit (IMU) for inmates who are repeatedly violent and destructive, and a new 100-bed segregation wing for inmates serving short-term punishment.

IMU facilities are also used as housing for inmates who themselves are in danger, according to the Department of Corrections. Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, for example, is assigned to the IMU at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla because of his notoriety and fears that other inmates will harm him.

"It is a challenging population," said Ken Quinn, superintendent of the Monroe Correctional Complex. "You have to be able to put them somewhere."

For more than two decades, Monroe and other prisons throughout the state have had to ship their repeat troublemakers to Walla Walla and other IMU facilities. When Monroe's IMU starts taking inmates Jan. 8, it will be the biggest intensive-management facility in the state, according to the Department of Corrections.

The prison already has 80 inmates living in the new short-term segregation wing.

Inmates serving time in the new building will spend 23 hours a day in the 7-by-14-foot cells. They will be allowed to exercise for an hour a day in a concrete room. The inmates will be allowed out of their cells three times a week for 15-minute shower breaks.

From the control room above the concrete and metal tiers, corrections officers can keep watch on inmates in the solitary-confinement units. A total of 172 surveillance cameras can monitor nearly every inch of the 77,000-square-foot building, corrections Sgt. Derek Walter said.

Walter said the cameras and building design offer better security to officers, who in the past had been assaulted by inmates serving time in segregation.

The state's IMUs have drawn fire from Human Rights Watch, an independent, nongovernmental organization.

Alison Parker, a deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said solitary confinement is "cruel and unusual punishment."

"Solitary confinement has the obvious effect of reducing social contacts between offenders ... and can have lasting psychological effects on human beings," Parker said. "It should be a measure of last resort."

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Dave Bustanoby, the state's correctional-programs manager, said offenders sent to segregation can serve only up to six months in solitary confinement, but they can live indefinitely in the IMU. He said the only difference between the two is that in the IMU inmates can have a television and radio.

"The focus for the IMU is stress management and behavioral change," Bustanoby said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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