With work crews, Federal Way stands to save millions on jail costs

Federal Way Municipal Court is pursuing yet another innovative way to save the city money on jail costs.

The city will contract with the state's Department of Corrections to offer work crew duty as punishment for low-level crimes committed by misdemeanants. Federal Way is the second city in King County to give a select group of criminals the chance to perform general labor rather than serve jail time as a sentence. The Federal Way court will sentence misdemeanants to the crew, and the DOC will oversee offenders as they carry out their sentence. Judge David Larson estimates somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of Federal Way's misdemeanants could be a good fit for the program.

"We've been talking about work crew, to my understanding, before I even got here and the costs and the liabilities and everything were prohibitive," Larson said. "But this innovative program lets the city really take advantage of work crew without the expense."

The DOC began its work crew program in 1995. The men and women on the crew now are sentenced by DOC and Seattle Municipal Court. The members work in King County, mostly Seattle, said Jim Thorburn, Seattle Work Crew Community Corrections supervisor. They perform duties such as cleaning up illegal dumping sites, he said.

With Federal Way's participation in the program, Thorburn estimates 15 to 35 defendants will partake in the crew daily. Correctional officers will oversee crew members during their 8-hour work day. Criminals who fail to show up, violating their sentencing terms, will be sent to jail.

Participation in the program is expected to cost the City of Federal Way nearly nothing, Larson said. Instead, the city stands to save millions over the period of a few years, Thorburn said. Misdemeanants will pay $15 per day to participate in work crew, thus avoiding jail time. The city will only pay the cost if the misdemeanant is indigent, said Sue White, Federal Way Municipal Court administrator.

"Our primary goal is to provide a means that people can be sentenced for crimes they commit in the City of Federal Way and do so in a manner that is commensurate with the crime they committed. Not all people need to go to jail, but not all people get community service either," Larson said.

As a bonus, the scenario is much more affordable for the city than paying jail costs. Federal Way contracts with King County, Yakima County, Auburn, Buckley, Fife and Enumclaw for misdemeanant jail services. King County charges $115.36 per inmate, per day. Yakima County charges $75.35 plus a medical fee. Booking fees may also apply. Auburn also charges a $75.35 fee per inmate, per day. Buckley charges $57 per inmate, per day. Fife charges $67 and Enumclaw $55 per inmate, per day. These prices do not reflect transportation costs. Federal Way generates an average daily jail population of 66- 88 individuals, police Cmdr. Stan McCall said.

Work crew is not the court's first effort to cut jail costs and offer misdemeanants options for serving their sentences. In April, the court began contracting with Providence Community Corrections for day reporting. This is another method of punishment for low-level crimes. Misdemeanants pay $10 to spend their day sitting in Providence's lobby instead of a jail cell. They are monitored.

"One of our consistent challenges within the police department is to manage our jail budget and the jail costs and I'm happy to say we have an ongoing partnership with (the court) to collaboratively work together to find alternatives to keep our costs lower," said Brian Wilson, Federal Way's city manager.

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