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City considers building its own jail

Federal Way could be home to a jail before December 2012.

At an April 1 study session, the Federal Way City Council showed an increased interest in researching, owning and operating its own jail. The city’s contract with King County Jail expires in 2012, without the option to renew. This has put pressure on the city to produce alternatives to housing criminals who commit misdemeanor crimes.

“Time is ticking,” council member Mike Park said. “We need to prepare some alternative ideas on how to house our inmates.”

The city has considered participating in the construction of a regional jail for the past year, but has remained open to jailing alternatives. The option to build, operate and manage its own misdemeanor jail facility has not been fully researched, police Cmdr. Stan McCall said. The opportunity appears promising on some levels but also has its drawbacks.

If Federal Way were to own, manage and operate a jail, it would have more control over bed space, which is becoming increasingly unpredictable and costly as the region’s jail population continues to increase.

The city would also be free to set its own policies. Money and police officers’ time would be saved in transporting inmates.

“We have to do everything we can to fix the costs of a jail,” Mayor Jack Dovey said.

But the city does not have experience operating and maintaining a jail. The costs associated with the facility would be the sole responsibility of Federal Way. Additionally, a site large enough and fit for a jail could be difficult to come by, according to a staff report composed by McCall.

A public outcry can be expected if the city chooses this option, council member Linda Kochmar said. She referenced residents’ reactions when the state proposed in 2003 to place a sex offender home in the area.

Building a jail in Federal Way “is something that will be controversial,” Dovey said.

A jail owned, managed and operated by Federal Way would not have to be located in the city, McCall said in response to council member Eric Faison’s inquiry on the subject. If the city find land in another city or unincorporated King County and is granted permission to build, it could legally do so, McCall said.

Preliminary research indicates the cost to build a 150-bed facility in Federal Way could be approximately $15 million to $18 million in construction costs, and between $4 million and $6 million annually in operating costs, according to McCall’s report.

Considering all the options:

Partnering to build a regional jail, yet another option, would require similar construction and operating fund commitments from the city — but would not offer the managerial freedom.

The city has continually explored this option for the past year. South County Correction Entities (SCORE), a group of South King and Pierce county cities, is considering a jail partnership as a way to construct an approximately 800-bed facility. This structure is also without a site location, city manager Neal Beets said.

The cities of Auburn, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Renton and Tukwila would all contribute funding for use of the facility. In November 2007, Federal Way contributed $19,320 toward a feasibility study of the proposed structure.

The cities of Kent and Auburn have agreed to share in some costs, and Federal Way is now expected to pay $17,905 for the feasibility study.

City staff will continue to explore housing criminals in a regional jail, a private jail or paying increasing amounts to continue sheltering inmates beyond 2010 at the Yakima County and Fife jails, McCall said.

“I think we need to be very very bold and think outside the box,” Dovey said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Check it out:

Currently, Federal Way contracts its jail services with King County Jail, Yakima County Jail and Fife Jail. The King County contract will expire in 2012, with no renewable options offered. Yakima County will expire in 2010 with the option to renew the contract at an increased cost of approximately $33.50 per inmate per day, according to police Cmdr. Stan McCall’s report. Fife Jail is not large enough to house all of Federal Way’s jail population.

To book a person into the King County Jail in Seattle or the Regional Justice Center in Kent, Federal Way must pay $197.23. Additionally, a daily fee of $103.17 is charged per inmate. A daily cost of about $70 is charged to house inmates at the Fife jail, police chief Brian Wilson said. Yakima County Jail currently charges $71.47 per inmate per day.

Average daily 2007 SCORE participants’ jail population by the numbers:

Kent: 124 inmates

Renton: 123 inmates

Auburn: 121 inmates

Federal Way: 59 inmates

Tukwila: 27 inmates

Des Moines: 15 inmates

All information gathered is from a staff report by police Cmdr. Stan McCall and takes into account only inmates held for misdemeanor crimes.

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