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Washington is closing its first prison in 10 years. Are others next?

For the first time in more than a decade, Washington state is closing a prison. The Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt, Clark County will shut its gates for the last time next week. The state’s Department of Corrections says the population of the 240-bed minimum security prison is now down to about 60 people, all of whom will be relocated by Monday, Oct. 2.

The reason for the closure is a matter of falling demand — there are simply fewer people behind bars in the state. The department says these trends will likely accelerate in the coming years, potentially leading to more prison closures.

Mary Stohr

“We’ve had serious decarceration in this country now for the last 15 years, not in every state, but in most states and the federal government,” said Mary Stohr, a former corrections employee at Larch and current professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University.

Stohr said there are a myriad of reasons behind the closures — prisons are expensive, violent crime is down per capita, legalization and decriminalization of drugs have led to fewer arrests for nonviolent offenses, and a decrease in the percentage of young people may also be behind the dip.

In the short term, Stohr acknowledges there will be pain points as prisons close.

“There’s some unforeseen, unthought of effects in terms of economies and relationships, that will be harmed by closing this prison,” Stohr said. “But it’s also true that in our state, as in many states, we’ve been incarcerating far too many nonviolent people for many years, for minor drug offenses for all kinds of crimes where they could have been in the community.”

Read more and listen to the full conversation:
Soundside, KUOW (starts 10 minutes into the audio recording)

Debate project takes WSU students inside Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Prison debate
Prison debate

Of the 26 college students who teamed up this semester to participate in Wednesday’s debate over the issue of gun control at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, only half boarded the bus at the end of the day to make the long drive back to Washington State University in Pullman. The remaining 13, enrolled on-site in programs offered through Walla Walla Community College, instead rejoined the inmate population of the all-male correctional facility.

For the undergraduates from WSU – juniors and seniors working on majors within the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology – the trek to Coyote Ridge was the fourth and final one of the semester. And while second amendment rights may have served as the focus for their debate, most of the Criminal Justice students were drawn to the experience primarily for the opportunity to develop something more than an abstract notion about the realities of working within the corrections system.

Read more about the project at WSU News >>

Prison Privatization Can Impede Job Growth

Gregory Hooks
Gregory Hooks

Building on earlier research in which they challenged the widespread belief that rural communities can create job growth by hosting state prisons, researchers at Washington State University have now found local job growth is often impeded in communities that become hosts to privately operated prisons.

“Our most recent research, which relies on a large, comprehensive national dataset, is consistent with our prior work showing that prisons really make little contribution to local economic growth,” said Gregory Hooks, professor of sociology at WSU. “Moreover, our study reveals that, in states moving quickly to turn over management of their prison systems to outside companies, the privatization of prisons often has a negative impact on employment prospects in host counties.”

Read more at WSU News >>

More about the research >>