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Forecast predicts a regional jail

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Though Federal Way has been conscious of looming jail contracts with facilities in Yakima and King County, which will expire in 2010 and 2012, respectively, the city has been hesitant to officially declare its participation in a regional jail study until now.

The city entered into an inter-local agreement with Renton to provide funding for a jail facility feasibility study.

The study is a proactive step in determining how Federal Way will house inmates who commit misdemeanor crimes.

“In part (building a regional jail) is a control-your-own-destiny type issue,” Federal Way City Manager Neal Beets said.

An opportunity to renew jail contracts may not be available after the current contracts expire, Federal Way Police Deputy Chief Andy Hwang said. For this reason, the city must plan ahead and consider either building its own jail or participating in the construction of a regional jail, he said.

“I don’t think we have a lot of options,” Hwang said. “These bed spaces, more than likely, will not be available (after current contracts expire).”

Renton will lead the study and pay for the majority of it. Initially, Federal Way, Tukwila and Des Moines expected to contribute. Auburn is now showing an interest in the jail facility, so Federal Way is expected to pay $19,320, rather than the previously estimated $32,000, based on projected use and each city’s average daily jail population, Hwang said.

The $161,000 study was brought before the Renton City Council on Oct. 15. It will take four months to complete and will evaluate the details of building and maintaining a regional jail, which would house prisoners from the partnering cities, Renton police spokeswoman Penny Bartley said.

There is no guarantee Federal Way will ultimately participate in funding and operating a regional jail, but a need to consider that option is present, Hwang said.

Budget time:

As the Federal Way City Council considers its 2007-2008 mid-biennium budget, jail costs are an issue.

City staff recommended adjusting the budget to allocate an additional $136,000 in jail costs, according to documents dated Nov. 6. Without this money, the city could exceed the $1,838,022 budgeted for 2007-2008 jail costs.

This step to increase jail funding should not be looked upon negatively, Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson said. An increase in the city’s population and county jailing fees has required the city to budget for spending more than it previously planned, he said.

Federal Way pays for a daily average of 50 prisoners, Wilson said. This number is low compared to cities of similar and smaller size to Federal Way, but the jail population has increased compared to previous years. Causes for the rise of inmates include an increasing city population, the hiring of more police officers who are able to respond to more crime, and the implementation of another municipal court judge, who has the ability to sentence additional criminals, Wilson said.

More significant than the increase in jailed Federal Way criminals are jail costs themselves, Wilson said. King County facilities charge substantially more than facilities in Fife, Enumclaw or Yakima, Wilson said.

To book a person into the King County Jail in Seattle and the Regional Justice Center in Kent, cities 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. Bed space at King County facilities is likely to continue rising as beds become more scarce, Wilson said.

The Federal Way Police Department is conscious of jail costs and does everything in its power to avoid housing prisoners at the more expensive facilities — unless a health issue requires it to do so, Wilson said. The department takes steps to manage who is booked into jail and who is not, Wilson said. If a criminal does not pose a threat to the community, the police department may choose to release the person rather than pay jail costs, he said.

“In terms of strictly costs, it would be best to continue doing what we are doing,” Hwang said. “It’s the least expensive way, but unfortunately the environment is constantly changing around us.”

The feasibility study will reveal, among other things, if owning and operating a regional jail would be cheaper than paying the county’s fees or operating a city-owned jail, Hwang said.

Once the study is completed, it will be brought before the Federal Way City Council once again. The public will then have an opportunity to voice its opinions.

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

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Numbers to know:

The feasibility study will be based on the idea of a 500-bed, full-service regional jail, Renton Police Department spokeswoman Penny Bartley said. A 500-bed facility is expected to meet South King County’s needs for 15 to 20 years, she said. The facility’s size may be altered now that Auburn has shown interest.

Bartley estimates 800 inmates, held on misdemeanor charges, currently reside in King County jails. Of those, about 50 come from Federal Way. Renton anticipates South King County cities, as a whole, will need 700 beds by 2011, Bartley said.

Renton, Federal Way, Tukwila and Des Moines are expected to need housing for 325 inmates in the jail by that time, she said. Ideally, the jail would be operational by 2011, Bartley said.

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