King County councilmembers want jail population reduction strategies evaluated.

King County councilmembers want jail population reduction strategies evaluated –  A motion by Rod Dembowski and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, members of the King County Council, would ask the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine to review initiatives tasked with lowering the average daily population in the county’s correctional system. The proposal would also request financial suggestions from the executive’s office.

King County runs three correctional facilities, all of which are having trouble filling up due to a personnel shortage. Constantine claims that early this year, the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention had over 120 open positions for prison officers and 300 more detainees than had been planned for in the budget. An increase in funding was included in the approved King County 2023–2024 budget to sustain 1,600 prisoners throughout the course of the two-year period.

The Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee heard Kohl-Welles’ remarks on May 2. “What we’re asking for is a review of what has been most successful, most impactful, and what the cost might be so that we really can determine how we can work to sustainably decrease our reliance on incarceration,” Kohl-Welles said. The King County Council granted Constantine’s request to work with South Correctional Entity, a regional prison center in Des Moines, WA, last month. By accepting reservations from South King County on its behalf, the facility would be under contract with King County through December 31, 2024. Over the next two years, the contract will cost an estimated $3.5 million.

Additionally, the council members ask that the executive’s office get in touch with King County’s partners in the criminal justice system. These organizations could be the Department of Public Defense, the King County Superior Court, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, or local service providers. Claudia Balducci, a fellow member of the King County Council, adding that the county needs “some kind of refresh” in order to create system-wide partnerships to solve the problems affecting the jails. According to Balducci, the jails “cannot solve diversion or jail population by themselves.” “All the players in the system affect one another.” The King County Executive’s Office’s director of council relations, Mina Hashemi, stated that the motion is in line with the work already underway there and that she looks forward to further discussions.

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