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Tuesday, March 6, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Snohomish County offers inmate cells

Seattle Times staff reporters

The reopening of a Snohomish County correctional facility near Arlington will help the state Department of Corrections keep inmates in jail.

Snohomish County had been considering reopening the Ridge, formerly known as Indian Ridge, for months to take in more state offenders. Furor over the recent early release of scores of inmates in King and Snohomish counties due to overcrowding speeded up that decision.

Under the Snohomish County agreement offered to the state last week, Snohomish County will move up to 180 of its minimum-security inmates from its jail in Everett to the Ridge, freeing up space for DOC inmates at the jail.

The DOC also is contracting with the Yakima County Jail and a third, undisclosed, location for more space within the state.

An additional 300 beds outside the state are likely needed to alleviate crowding, DOC officials said Monday. The DOC already rents beds in 14 facilities, including county jails, across the state. It also rents more than 950 beds in Minnesota and Arizona from the nation's largest private jailer, Corrections Corporation of America.

It will take Snohomish County a minimum of two months to get the Arlington facility in physical shape for opening, county officials said. The Ridge was operated as a minimum-security county jail until 2005, when the county opened its new, larger jail in Everett. Hiring staff and creating programming for inmates at the Ridge likely will take longer.

"What we have is a contract for beds," said county spokesman Veltry Johnson. "Some details still need to be worked out."

Snohomish County stands to make money from the use of the Ridge, Johnson said. It will cost about $2.9 million annually to run. Revenue from housing additional state inmates will be close to $4 million.

In the meantime, Gov. Christine Gregoire has said there will be no more early releases of inmates in jail for violating terms of community custody, the state's version of parole.

Gregoire said releasing inmates during overcrowding is a five-year-old policy her office knew nothing about. "I asked my senior staff last week, and basically the answer was no," she said. "This is a policy that Harold [Clarke, state DOC secretary] inherited."

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Republicans have challenged that statement, but Gregoire maintains her first knowledge of the plan was following media reports of the early releases.

Maj. William Hayes of the King County Jail said the issue came up when the DOC population there approached 300 inmates. The state only contracts with King County for 220 beds. Discussions over what to do grew more frequent, and DOC eventually ordered the mass release, Hayes said.

Initially, almost 100 inmates were given permission to leave jails in King and Snohomish counties. Only 65 actually left.

All of the released inmates have since been ordered back by the DOC. Monday, DOC spokesman Jeff Weathersby said 26 had reported in King County by their assigned time, five had been re-arrested and 27 are still missing, and there are warrants for their arrest, Weathersby said. The other seven were released in Snohomish County; information about their custody status wasn't available Monday.

While housing of DOC community-custody violators in county jails is only temporary, a permanent plan is being developed.

Clarke is expected to have a new plan for monitoring these types of offenders to the governor by March 14. Gregoire, who ordered a report following the deaths of three Seattle-area police officers after encounters with DOC felons who had been released under community corrections supervision, said Monday she maintains confidence in Clarke.

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or cschwarzen@seattletimes.com

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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

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