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City looks to save on jail costs
"Troubled by jail costs at least 10 times higher than in 1991, Federal Way officials hope to start sending as many as 35 percent of the city's prisoners to more affordable jails in Chelan and Okanogan counties.Interim Public Safety Director Tom Chaney Sr. estimates the city could save as much as 31 percent on costs by sending prisoners to Chelan County and 57 percent by sending prisoners to Okanogan County, based on a review of King County jail bills from the past six months.Under the proposal, the city would send its longer-term prisoners, such as domestic violence and DUI offenders, to the two rural jails instead of to the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent. The practice would apply to people with sentences longer than 30 days.People sentenced to shorter terms for misdemeanor offenses - who amount to about 65 percent of Federal Way prisoners - would continue to be lodged at the Regional Justice Center, Chaney said. The city doesn't prosecute felony offenders.King County charges a $137.65 booking fee per prisoner and $63.83 a day, Chaney said. In contrast, the Chelan County Regional Jail in Wenatchee would charge $56 per day for male inmates and $60 per day for female inmates with no booking fee. Okanogan County Jail in Okanogan would charge a $20 booking fee and $42 per day.Both jails would pick up Federal Way prisoners from the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle and the Regional Justice Center and transport them, according to the contracts. Neither jail would return prisoners here upon release. Chelan would transport prisoners from King County weekly at no charge. Okanogan would charge the city 32.5 cents-per-mile, for an average round trip cost of $77.35 per trip. Otherwise, the city would bear the responsibility of transporting prisoners to the jail, located just north of the Canadian border in the center of the state. City spokesman Derek Matheson said the jail cost savings would make up for those transportation expenses.Earlier this month, Chaney sought the support of the City Council's public safety committee for the plan. The committee, led by Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge, recommended signing the contracts. The full council will vote on the plan at the Sept. 5 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers.The city would prefer to send people to jails closer to home so they have family members nearby. However, it's very difficult to stay within budget for jail services, and the city must rein in those costs, Burbidge said.It's not our intent to move them out of the area. The idea is to find lower costs, Burbidge said. It's generally better for people to be closer to where their support is, but when you have runaway jail costs you do have to look at other alternatives.For years, city officials have been troubled by the amount spent for jail services. In fact, last year the city expressed interest in the city of Fife's proposal to build a 500-bed jail and take some of the prisoners from neighboring cities. Fife officials are now talking about re-opening the city's 24-bed jail in addition to continuing with plans for the 500-bed jail. The city of Federal Way has expressed interest in both those plans, Matheson said. The reason that the city fancied Fife's proposal remains constant, Chaney said. We monitor these costs every year. Every year they go up, he said. They've gone up considerably.So much, in fact, that Management Services Director Iwen Wang says she knows of no other city expense that has increased so dramatically since incorporation. In 1991, the city paid King County about $119,000 for jail services. This year, the city will pay about $2 million for those services if it doesn't find cheaper alternatives.Such alternatives, including a greater use of electronic home monitoring, could bring costs down to $1.5 million next year, Wang said. She estimates costs could reach $2.7 million next year if the city does nothing. We don't have any other expenses that grow that way, Wang said. This is why there's this fear it will continue to grow this way.Wang attributes part of that dramatic growth to King County's increase in jail fees. In 1996, King County charged $90.51 to book prisoners and $51.68 per day to house them, Wang said. In 1997, after the construction of the Regional Justice Center, it upped costs to $108.91 to book and $67.93 daily to house prisoners - increases of 20 percent and 31 percent, respectively.That's a huge difference, she said. Since then, King County's annual fee increase has slowed, Wang said. But the amount the city pays for jail services has continued to rise. In 1999, the city paid almost $1.4 million, which was $524,403 over budget, Wang said. The reason? A hike in cases during the last three years, in part because of improved enforcement efforts after the police department formed about three years ago. Also, the days prisoners spent in jail increased because of mandatory sentencing guidelines, Wang said.By 1994, when the amount the city paid for jail services had more than quadrupled, city employees had started to review those costs, Wang said. They spoke with representatives of a number of local jails to determine if a more affordable facility could house the city's inmates. However, most of the jails were at capacity and lacked extra beds for Federal Way prisoners or offered fees that weren't much cheaper than King County.This spring, City Manager David Moseley started exploring cost-cutting ideas again, including sending some prisoners to rural jails. A big plus with other jails is no booking fee, or a minimal fee. King County's $137.65 fee adds up, Matheson said. Plus, the jail charges the per-day fee if a prisoner is in the jail for any portion of a day.That can become costly because most low-level prisoners are booked and then immediately released, Matheson said.When someone's processed into the jail, which the city has to pay, plus the $70 (per day) and immediately released on personal recognizance or makes bail, it's essentially $200 out the window without even a complete day of custody, he said. If they book somebody at 6 o'clock in the evening and they're released at 1 o'clock (a.m.), we're booked for two days. If the City Council approves the contract with Chelan, it will be the first city to respond to that county's objective to house prisoners from Western Washington cities for cheaper rates, said Frank Young, chief of corrections at the Chelan County Regional Jail.Chelan County officials decided it would be profitable to provide jail space to cities throughout the state after realizing that some Washington jails, including the Regional Justice Center, had placed premium price tags on their beds. As part of that plan, the Chelan jail, which now has 257 beds, will add 40 beds by mid-December and 60 more beds by April. The agreement with Federal Way would help me and my budgetary process and at the same time will alleviate some of the heartburn in yours, Young said.Chelan can offer lower per-day fees and charge no booking fees to cities because of less costly jail space and lower wages for jail employees. The jail also has programs that enable the jail to get compensated - either in pay or in trade - for work the prisoners do. The jail charges the prisoners a $10 booking fee.Those lower fees would benefit Federal Way taxpayers. But Chelan also wold gain, to the tune of about $1.2 million a year when the county signs contracts with enough cities to keep the 100 new beds regularly occupied.I think every other city will sit around and watch Federal Way. Every other city councilman will ... go to his police chief or commander and say, 'Why don't we do this?' Young said. I won't be able to build the space fast enough. --------------------------- Jail costs 2000: $137.65 booking fee and $63.83 per-day housing fee; the city has spent $815,755 through June; 1,289 prisoners booked from January through June; 9,879 days charged. 1999: $121.58 and $63.54; $1.39 million for entire year; 2,489 bookings for the year; 19,749 days. 1998: $125.10 and $68.85; $1.02 million; 1,707 bookings; 11,900 days. 1997: $108.91 and $67.93; $817,218; 1,147 bookings; 9,772 days. 1996: $90.51 and $51.68; $662,290; 1,010 bookings; 11,022 days. Source: City of Federal Way------------------------------Other cities looking to save jail costs By TAMMY BATEYAssistant editorThe city of Algona's attitude toward the King County Regional Justice Center echoes that of a growing number of cities seeking more affordable ways to house their prisoners.RJC is our last resort, said Sandi Ullrich, an Algona Police Department support specialist.That's become even more the case with the county's decision to close the Regional Justice Center to prisoner bookings between 9:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. County Executive Ron Sims proposed the move as a way to cut costs in the wake of Initiative 695. Instead of driving to Kent, police officers now must transport their prisoners to the King County Corrections Facility in downtown Seattle, taking more officer time and driving up transportation costs.Some cities, including Algona and ultimately perhaps Federal Way, take at least a portion of their business elsewhere. Sometimes that means contracting with cities outside the county.For example, the Algona Police Department used to contract with Kent and Auburn. But now, they just never have any room, Ullrich said. The department now sends its short-term prisoners to Puyallup, Buckley or Enumclaw. Recently, the department signed a contract to send its long-term inmates to the Forks jail, which charges $50 a day and picks up the inmates, Ullrich said. That will free up space at the three city jails Algona contracts with for short-term prisoners, who are most likely to need to be transported to and from the Auburn Municipal Court, which Algona contracts with for court services.King County cities aren't the only ones grappling with how to ease overcrowding and rising costs. Cities everywhere are considering creative solutions, such as electronic monitoring and contracting with more rural jails. Here's a peek at what other cities have talked about doing:* Snohomish County officials are studying home detention or work crews as ways to cut costs and overcrowding. Up to 100 prisoners are sleeping on the floor every night at the 477-bed Snohomish County Jail, according to officials there.In late July, the County Council agreed to lease the state's former Indian Ridge Youth Camp east of Arlington. The facility will house 144 men and women sentenced to jail for drunken driving or other misdemeanors. * Late last year, the city of Fife put out bids for a contractor to build, furnish and manage a 500-bed jail. The sole respondent was a group that includes Lugo Construction and the Utah-based Managing Training Corp., which operates several jails.The Pierce County Jail is routinely full, meaning the city of Fife must sometimes scramble to find other cities willing to take its prisoners. The city of Fife is now talking about re-opening its 24-bed jail, but is continuing to consider the 500-bed facility.The biggest advantage to Federal Way of Fife's plans? The largest one is Fife wouldn't charge a booking fee, said city spokesman Derek Matheson. "