Cities consider building a regional jail

Limited jail space and looming expiration dates on contracts have pushed four South King County cities to consider building their own jail.

Renton leads the quest for a regional jail. The Renton City Council will soon decide when to begin evaluating, through a feasibility study, the possibility of constructing a regional jail.

“King County is going to have to expand its jail capacity in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Penny Bartley, Renton Police Department spokeswoman and jail manager.

Renton plans to hire a consultant to perform the study, which will identify, among other things, a cost-benefit analysis of the construction and operation of a 500-bed, full-service regional jail to house inmates who have committed misdemeanor crimes, she said.

Preliminary discussions regarding finances and ownership with Tukwila, Federal Way and Des Moines have revealed opportunities for partnerships in the project, Bartley said.

Building a regional jail “is a control-your-own destiny type issue,” Federal Way City Manager Neal Beets said.

Currently, the majority of cities in King County contract their jail services with the county, Fife and cities in Eastern Washington.

In 2000, the county renegotiated jail contracts with its cities. It gave those cities until 2012 to find a place to move inmates being held on misdemeanor crimes, Bartley said. King County cities, including Federal Way, are feeling the pressure to find a home for their inmates.

“We are certainly mindful of when those contracts expire,” Beets said.

Size matters

The fine details of the jail have not been determined, but the feasibility study will be based on the idea of a 500-bed, full-service jail, Bartley said.

The facility’s size may be altered if additional partnerships among other King County cities arise and more room is needed, she said.

Ideally, the jail would be operational by 2011, before the contract with King County expires, Bartley said.

A 500-bed facility is expected to meet South King County’s needs for 15 to 20 years, she said. Bartley estimates 800 inmates, held on misdemeanor charges, currently reside in King County jails. Of those, 45 to 50 come from Federal Way, Police Chief Brian Wilson said.

Based on long-term planning performed by a consultant, Renton anticipates South King County cities will need 700 beds by 2011, Bartley said. The plan excludes Kent and Enumclaw, which do not contract their jail services with the county.

Renton, Federal Way, Tukwila and Des Moines are expected to house 325 inmates in the jail by that time, she said.

“It’s promising to look at regional approaches to these kinds of public problems,” Beets said.

Though the idea of a regional jail is appealing, Federal Way is keeping its options open, Wilson said. The city might have the opportunity to contract jail services with neighboring cities instead of the county, he said.

At this time, Federal Way wishes to stay informed on Renton’s progress in the project and continue to consider the idea of partially owning a regional jail, Beets said.

Until the inter-local agreement goes before the Federal Way City Council, the city has no obligations or commitments to Renton or the pursuit of a regional jail, Beets said. The Federal Way City Council may be called upon in November to review an inter-local agreement for assistance in funding the feasibility study for the jail, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said.

The police department will continue to keep the city updated on its options for housing inmates as well, Wilson said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.

Add it up

To book a person into a King County-owned jail, such as 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. Cities must also pay to transport inmates to the jails. The feasibility study will reveal, among other things, if owning and operating a jail would be cheaper than paying the county’s fees.

Getting started

A feasibility study will be brought before the Renton City Council on Oct. 15.

If the council approves the $161,000 study for a regional jail, the study will take three to four months to complete and will likely begin in November, said Penny Bartley, Renton Police Department spokeswoman and jail manager.

The study will produce a programming model, conceptual design, staffing formula, operational budget and set of site requirements, she said. It will also reveal how cost-effective building and operating a regional jail may be, Bartley said.

Renton plans to pay for the study by entering into inter-local agreements with other King County cities that choose to become partners in the project, Bartley said. The jail will be multi-jurisdictional and thus paid for by more than one city, according to the contract for the feasibility study, Bartley said.

Though Renton’s City Council has yet to give the go-ahead for the study, Bartley is confident the endeavor will receive the council’s approval.

Based on projected use of the jail, Federal Way will contribute about $32,000 toward the study, Federal Way City Manager Neal Beets said.

Tukwila may fund $37,030, Des Moines an additional $12,880 and the balance of $79,090 will be carried by Renton, Bartley said. Each city will have to bring the feasibility study proposal before its governing body before any money would be released.

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