I just got back from a 4-day tour of Eastern Washington last week. While there I had the pleasure of visiting some of our folks at Pine Lodge, Lakeland Village and Ahtanum View Correctional Center. All three of these facilities are being considered for closure or vast down sizing in this year’s legislative session.
The “meat saw”, designed by last years legislature to tear apart institutional care within our state, came to us in the form of a budget proviso. Not only did that proviso not provide public hearing regarding the expenditure of $500,000.00 to fund a study, the proviso language was also crafted in such a way as to limited the full range of options that the consultants could consider. Top that with the fact the both the consultants hired are former executives at DOC and DDD. It could leave one believing the outcomes were set before the study was conducted. The proviso also attempts to limit the choices of the legislature once it receives the consultant’s recommendations. The proviso mandates cutting 1500+ beds from DOC, 250 beds from RHCs and 235 beds from The Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. Telling the legislature what they can and can't do should fly like a lead balloon with them. As always, they do have the choice of not choosing any of the consultants recommendations and proceeding as they see fit. They have done that before, I am told.
The folks I talked to at the three facilities were worried. Of course they were worried about the impact this consultants report could have on their jobs and their families. But not surprisingly, they were just as worried about the impact such closures could have on their neighbors and community. The issue of diminished public safety and protection of our most vulnerable came up time and time again. Who better to know how dangerous or fragile the folks these state employees work with are than them? Who better to forecast the gaps in service and security if their job or facility went away than them?
The message was clear in each place I visited. “We are ready to educate anyone who will listen about the importance of the service we provide. We are ready to fight for safety and a responsible level of service to our communities, the clients we serve and our families.”
I was very clear in describing the up hill battle we faced with the budget and the seeming agendas of some of our legislators. For the folks I talked to at Pine Lodge Correctional Facility, Lakeland Village and Ahtanum View Correctional Center, their response was clear, their tone was strong and their stare unblinking.
“Bring it”, they said.
This will be an interesting session.