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WA minimum-security prison to close, DOC refocusing resources as part of system reform

Thomas Hawk
Flickr -

Washington officials are closing a minimum security prison in the Southwest corner of the state this year. Officials say the move will allow them to refocus resources as the population of incarcerated people in the state declines, and play a part in reducing the use of solitary confinement.

Larch Corrections Center is in Clark County just outside of Vancouver, and will close this fall.

Sean Murphy is deputy secretary of the state Department of Corrections. He says the closure is in part due to the declining prison population, but that the 240-bed facility isn't being abandoned for good. According to the department, only 70 percent of available beds are occupied in Washington's prisons.

"Our goal here is to warm close the building so that if there's a need or a change in population we could reopen it again some day," he said.

In the meantime, DOC plans to do some needed maintenance work at the facility.

The department plans to offer the 115 staff at Larch jobs at other DOC facilities. Incarcerated people at Larch will be moved to facilities as close to their expected re-entry communities as possible, Murphy said. According to a department map, Cedar Creek Corrections Center is the nearest prison to Larch, more than 100 miles away in Thurston County.

Closing Larch will allow the state to use more resources in existing higher security facilities, Murphy said, like offering health and education services, and providing more higher security living spaces after several closed in recent years due to a lack of funding.

"So we'll be reopening some of those living units at eight of the facilities across the state," he said. More beds at higher security or "custody" levels will make more options available to help reduce the use of solitary confinement or restrictive housing, Murphy added.

The department aims to reduce the use of solitary confinement by 90 percent over the next five years. A formal plan on how the department will meet that goal comes out later this year.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.