The Federal Way City Council voted to refinance the remainder of the city's SCORE jail bond to officially remove them from the interlocal agreement they have been in since 2009. Courtesy photo

Federal Way considers returning to SCORE jail

After departure finalized in Jan.2020, new possible contract city agreement would result in three inmate beds for approximately $128 per day.

The City of Federal Way is considering returning to a partnership with SCORE jail after officially separating from the jail earlier this year.

Federal Way’s 2018 decision to leave the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) regional jail, owned by multiple South King County cities, was prompted by the rising jail costs — an increase of about $4 million between 2012 to 2018. Federal Way officially departed from SCORE jail in January 2020.

Since the separation, Mayor Jim Ferrell has boasted about the $2.1 million annual savings as a result of leaving SCORE. The savings significantly helped the city take on financial uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this spring.

On Tuesday night (Nov. 17), Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang said SCORE officials asked Federal Way to rejoin as a contract city, meaning the city would have three inmate beds available for about $128 each per day; any additional bookings beyond the three would be about $180 each, which Hwang said “is still cheaper than King County.”

Previously as an owner city, Federal Way was paying roughly $250 per inmate.

“It really [makes] sense for us to have another contract jail facility,” Hwang said, adding that the SCORE facility provides outstanding medical and psychological services. “I am not aware of any issues.”

Since leaving SCORE, Federal Way now contracts with multiple jails in Yakima, Puyallup, Issaquah, King County and Kent to house inmates. Operationally, the additional three inmate beds would help house DUI arrests.

Having SCORE as another contract jail “will make us more efficient operationally … also long-term wise, it gives us leverage when we’re negotiating [better rates] with other jails,” Hwang said. “When citizens see that we’re going back, we’re not going back as an owner city and things are not the same.”

The possible contract has both operational benefits — reducing the amount of time officers are outside of city limits due to SCORE’s proximity — and financial stability, said Cmdr. Kurt Schwan of Federal Way police.

The $175,000 jail contract is a reallocation of funds currently in the jail budget, he said. By adding SCORE to the list of jails Federal Way uses, it diversifies the available options.

However with the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential of outbreaks disrupting housing plans, the uncertainty becomes dangerous.

Without the guaranteed beds and space for inmates, “more than operationally and more than budget impacts, it’s a public safety issue,” Schwan said. “We’re looking out for the citizens of Federal Way and keeping their public safety in mind.”

The agreement to rejoin SCORE as a contract city, no longer an owner-city, was initially in the city council’s consent agenda before it was pulled into discussion by Councilmember Martin Moore and discussed by three public commenters on Nov. 17.

Opened in 2011, SCORE houses about 800 inmates, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the jail’s population is operating at about half capacity, the Mirror previously reported.

Federal Way had entered into this interlocal agreement in 2009 to help lower the cost of housing prisoners. Six other cities were part of the agreement: Burien, Auburn, SeaTac, Tukwila, Des Moines and Renton. The jail is located in Des Moines.

On Tuesday night, council members raised concerns over the lawsuits against SCORE for the 2018 death of 43-year-old Damaris Rodriguez during which she was suffering a mental health crisis. Concerns were also raised about alleged inmate complaints, public concerns and the city’s decision to leave so recently.

SCORE Executive Director Devon Schrum said she sought permission from the current member-cities to send the City of Federal Way a 2021 housing contract in the event they needed additional jail services.

SCORE was “able to manage the departure of the City of Federal Way by refunding its bonds at a lower cost and redistributing the remaining obligation amongst the six owner cities,” Schrum said, adding that the contract with Federal Way will not significantly impact SCORE either way.

Since openings in 2011, SCORE has had six inmate deaths. Independent investigations of the deaths have found SCORE was not at fault for any of the incidents, she said. However, SCORE is in litigation over one of the deaths at this time.

The public jail has received “two different accreditations ensuring it operates under the highest jail standards,” Schrum said, which includes recognition from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).

While Moore moved to kill the agreement item entirely on Tuesday night, other council members advocated for additional research to be conducted.

Councilmember Greg Baruso inquired about auditing all of the jails Federal Way contracts with, to which Council President Susan Honda agreed it would be fair to investigate further into the contract jails.

“If we’re going to investigate what is happening at SCORE, then we might want to know if other facilities have issues,” Honda said. “It could be that other jails in the area also have issues and if we have contracts with them, perhaps the council would like to know what’s going on at any other jail instead of just calling SCORE out.”

The Federal Way City Council voted unanimously to bring the SCORE contract agreement back to committee for further discussion, allowing for public to make comments, and revisit the contract agreement after more research into SCORE and the other contract jails has been conducted.

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