Opinion

Locals should have been consulted before deciding to reopen Indian Ridge

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Surprised and outraged is how Gov. Christine Gregoire described her reaction to learning that scores of felons, accused of violating their parole, had been recently released from King County jails. Surprised and outraged could also be used to describe the reaction of many local residents upon their learning of the proposed deal between Gov. Gregoire and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon to reopen the mothballed Indian Ridge Correctional Facility to house low-risk inmates there.
The Ridge, as it is now being called, is a 180-bed county facility southeast of Arlington that was closed in 2005. The recently announced deal calls for it to be reopened within weeks to house up to 180 minimum-security prisoners from the countys Everett jail, freeing up space at the jail to house prisoners from the Department of Corrections.
While the proposal has several benefits, mostly for the state and the county, it does have some drawbacks.
For the state, the proposal offers more space to house inmates so that, in the future, they will not be released early due to overcrowding. This could also enhance public safety as prisoners are forced to finish serving their sentences and are held accountable for their actions. For the county, the benefits are more economic. The county will charge the state $70 per day to house each prisoner. It is estimated the state will pay nearly $4 million in fees annually to house prisoners at the Ridge, while it is expected to cost about $2.9 million a year to operate the facility a significant profit for the countys coffers.
One of the downsides to the proposal is the foreseeable difficulty in staffing the facility with qualified personnel. Local law enforcement agencies are having a difficult time in finding, hiring and training qualified applicants to fill the current vacancies in their departments. Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart, who is having difficulties hiring recruits to fill his departments vacancies, expressed some doubts about the process. Its a time-consuming process. If people think theyre getting more sheriffs deputies out there, just because the ridge is reopening, that is a fallacy. Im not seeing us getting any more funding for additional patrols.
Another drawback for the proposal is the lack of local involvement before the announcement was made. Arlington Heights Improvement Club member Laura Hoffman criticized both Gov. Gregoire and Reardon for not consulting with local residents before agreeing to reopen the Ridge and is upset by what she considers as inadequate law enforcement coverage of her neighborhood. Aaron Reardon has been here once, and that was when he was trying to get elected, said Hoffman. Weve never seen Gov. Gregoire up here. I dont even think she knows where Indian Ridge is. Members of the sheriffs office told us, at our last meeting with them, that our best defense from crime was to watch out for each other. I understand their funding issues, but if theyre not capable of a presence in the Heights, then the county shouldnt be housing inmates out here.
And while local community members may rightfully be upset that they were not consulted prior to the decision being made, they will have an opportunity to find out more about the proposal and, hopefully, let their concerns be known. A town hall meeting has been scheduled by the Arlington Heights Improvement Club, for March 20, beginning at 7 p.m., at 12221 Arlington Heights Road. Snohomish County Department of Corrections Director Steve Thompson, Snohomish County Community Corrections Commander and project manager for the Ridge Jim Harms, Snohomish County Department of Corrections Deputy Director Susan Clawson and Snohomish County Council member John Koster have all said they will be attending. You should too. With improved communication and the proper cooperation between all those involved the state, the county and community residents the benefits of the proposal could outweigh any potential drawbacks.

To contact a member of The Marysville Globe/Arlington Times editorial board Kris Passey, Scott Frank e-mail forum@premier1.net.

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