State's secretary of corrections resigns unexpectedly
Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail quit his job effectively immediately on Friday due to unspecified personal reasons.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail quit his job effective immediately on Friday due to unspecified personal reasons.
Vail, 59, was lured out of retirement in 2007 to help run the agency after it was repeatedly criticized for its handling of offenders accused of violating the terms of their release.
Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed him to the top job that same year after the former secretary, Harold Clarke, left to head the Massachusetts prison system.
"This is a loss to the State of Washington, the Department of Corrections and to me personally," Gregoire said in a statement Friday afternoon. "I want to thank him for his 35 years of service to the citizens of Washington and for the past three years as a member of my Cabinet."
It's not unusual for senior staff and cabinet members to leave in the twilight of an administration, although Vail's quick resignation left some people scratching their heads.
Gregoire announced last month she will not run for re-election. Not long later, her chief of staff, Jay Manning, said he'll be leaving on July 15.
Vail could not be reached for comment Friday.
He has a long history with the department, previously working as superintendent at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, McNeil Island Corrections Center, the Washington Corrections Center for Women and as deputy secretary of the agency.
The governor said Friday that she's appointed Prisons Director Bernie Warner to take over as acting secretary.
"I am confident he will continue to lead the agency with the same level of commitment — and will ensure DOC continues to make great progress during this time of transition," she said.
Warner also has a long history with the department, starting work there in 1980 and holding various positions. He left and took corrections jobs in Arizona, Florida and California before returning last October to be the prisons director here.
"Like everyone else in the Department of Corrections, I was saddened to hear that Eldon decided to step down as secretary," Warner said in a statement. "I will do my best to ensure that the men and women who work for the Department have the same level of leadership they deserve."
Vail has been credited with stabilizing the department, but he also has dealt with several high-profile tragedies in the past two years.
After Maurice Clemmons shot and killed four Lakewood police officers in November 2009, Vail led the reform effort with the committee that oversees the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision (ICAOS), the 50-state agreement that allows felons to move while under supervision. Clemmons had come to Washington after being released from an Arkansas prison.
In January, Monroe prison correctional officer Jayme Biendl was strangled by an inmate while she worked in the chapel. The slaying was the first of a corrections staff member at Monroe and the first of an officer in a state prison since 1979.
Vail also dealt with severe budget problems in the department, and in March closed the doors to McNeil Island, one of the state's iconic prisons.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Trending on seattletimes.com
Most viewed photo galleries
The Morning Memo
The Morning Memo jump starts your day with weather, traffic and news
Career Center Blog
Sign up for our newsletter
Receive weekly recipes, cooking tips and news in your inbox!