City considers Fife as option to house convicts

"The Federal Way City Council last month approved sending long-term prisoners to a third Eastern Washington jail, this one in Yakima County, but the ultimate solution to curbing jail costs might be closer to home.In the next few months, Federal Way and Fife expect to sign a contract that would commit half of the 24 beds in Fife's soon-to-be-reopened jail for Federal Way prisoners. That facility will take Federal Way's misdemeanor offenders for up to 30 days.And, Federal Way officials express continued interest in Fife's plans to ultimately hire a firm to build and manage a 500-bed jail, which would take misdemeanor prisoners with longer sentences. That jail, however, probably won't be built for two to three years, said Federal Way's interim Public Safety Director Tom Chaney Sr.In the meantime, the reopening of the 24-bed jail will offer Federal Way a chance to save taxpayers money by curbing jail costs that have risen by 40 percent in the past 18 months.We're just looking at the biggest bang for the buck we can find, Chaney said.A contract with Fife also might not be fraught with the same kind of logistical questions that have held up Federal Way's plans to immediately start sending some of its prisoners to the rural jails. In September, city officials had said they hoped to begin sending prisoners to those jails later that month. The biggest hold-ups? Coordinating transportation from King County jails to the Eastern Washington jails and convincing King County District Court judges to send Federal Way prisoners that entered the criminal system before the Municipal Court formed in January, 2000 to the rural jails, officials say.Initially, city officials estimated about a third of Federal Way prisoners could be sent to the rural jails. Qualifying prisoners would be those sentenced to more than 30 days in jail. Their offenses would include domestic violence, driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license and theft.A public support officer in the Federal Way Department of Public Safety was tapped earlier this month to devote his time to coordinating transportation between King County jails and the rural jails, Chaney said.The city continues to talk with the three District Court judges in Federal Way to determine where they stand on sending prisoners out of the county to serve their time, city officials say.One of those judges, A.T. Woody Leverette, said he hasn't heard much about the city's goal of sending prisoners to rural jails but isn't adverse to the idea. I have no problem with the concept of trying to reduce costs as long as we can do it within the existing rules, of course, Leverette said.Jail costs have increased, from $119,000 in 1991 to about $2 million in 2000, because of increased fees from King County, particularly after the construction of the Regional Justice Center in 1997, stricter sentencing guidelines and better enforcement with the formation of the Department of Public Safety, officials say.As a result of concerns with cost, the City Council approved contracts with Okonogan and Chelan jails in September.Fife would take male prisoners only for its 24-bed jail. The city expects to charge no booking fee and about $63 per day, said Fife police Sgt. Randy Larsen, who will supervise the jail when it reopens. That maintenance fee is more than the rural jails but offers the advantage of being just a few miles south, eliminating the problem of coordinating transportation for prisoners.With Fife, we'd book until we ran out of bed space, Chaney said.All three rural jails would transport prisoners weekly, Yakima and Chelan for no additional cost and Okanogan for 32.5 cents per mile, for an average round trip cost of $77.35 per trip. Two summers ago, Fife operated the jail on weekends as a 24-hour holding facility for its prisoners. After four months, however, Fife had trouble getting enough corrections officers to cover the shifts, Larsen said, and closed it in December, 1999.A performance audit conducted last year, however, recommended the re-opening of the jail and Fife's new city manager, Joe Hannan, agreed. Fife officials are in the process of hiring six corrections officers to staff the jail.If only one or two of those corrections officers require additional training at the police academy, the jail could open as early as mid-March, Larsen said. If the city hires six people who don't require that, the jail could open sooner.Both Fife and Federal Way police officials say they're eager to sign a contract. Instead of having beds sitting empty, we'd be able to rent them out and it helps us offset our costs, Larsen said. "

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