News Spotlight: Best Bed Project
Published July 6, 2023 | Updated September 13, 2023
- Women's Prison Division Proposal
- Units Opening
- Larch Corrections Center Closure
The Best Bed Project is dedicated to ensuring every incarcerated individual in our care and custody receives the housing assignment to serve their court-ordered sentence that gives them the mental health, educational, programming and health care access best suited to meet their needs.
To date this project includes the warm closure of Larch Corrections Center and the opening of several close and medium/MI3 custody units at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, and the Women’s Prison Division Proposal to consolidate and repurpose Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women by transforming the Washington Corrections Center for Women into the Washington Women’s Correctional Complex.
This News Spotlight will be updated as new information is available.
Women’s Prison Division Proposal
DOC is inviting impacted stakeholders to virtual informational sessions to discuss next steps in relation to the DOC Best Bed Project. The next phase of this project is looking at bed utilization, staffing, and programming within the Women’s Division.
We would like to share our findings and our ideas for improving the impact that our services can have for incarcerated women. We would very much like to hear your thoughts and ideas.
The Women’s Prison Division was one of the first of its kind when it was created in 2021, and DOC has made significant strides towards aligning operations and practices to be more informed by the differences between genders. Assistant Secretary Jeannie Darneille and her team have worked to diligently to design and deliver programs and resources tailored to meet the needs of incarcerated women.
As noted below, changes to sentencing laws, coupled with incarceration trends, have left us with an abundance of beds at these facilities.
As you can see from the above data, both of these facilities are operating at a much-reduced census which is not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars and creates other challenges as well. In addition to having too many beds, WCCW experiences significant staff vacancy and turnover, mandatory overtime, and frequent program closures and cancellations.
Mission Creek is fully staffed and has a stable workforce, but as a stand-alone minimum-security camp in a remote location, it cannot offer the level of programming that the larger facility can.
The low bed occupancy rates, combined with staffing challenges and a lack of programming, mean that the Women’s Prison Division faces an uphill battle when it comes to fulfilling its mission. The development of innovative gender-responsive programming and training, which is what inspired me to create the division, has been stifled.
In response to this information, DOC has developed a strategy we believe addresses the situation effectively:
Relocate the MCCCW prison facility to the WCCW campus and create the Washington Women’s Corrections Complex (WWCC) on the grounds of WCCW.
This consolidation and relocation would move all staff, programs and resources to the WCCW campus, allowing the facility to leverage all resources in one centralized area. The Complex would be closely aligned with the model at the Monroe Correctional Complex and will incorporate all custody levels. It would provide a central location for programing, including vocational and educational opportunities.
Repurpose the MCCCW campus into a staff training center.
This is timely as the Maple Lane Training Center currently used for training DOC staff is needing to move. The new center would focus on providing gender-specific training for Women’s Prison Division staff.
Evaluate the staffing model in order to address gender responsive programming.
DOC proposes to use an independent consultant to evaluate the staffing model and the use of Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications (BFOQ) in context of current staffing capabilities and needs.
Work with our labor partners to address staff requests for alternative shift schedules.
Our staff have expressed a strong desire to have alternative shift schedules. Attracting and retaining quality staff is critical to the WA DOC’s ability to operate.
Public Stakeholder Meetings
September 21, 2023 – 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM - Families, Community-based Organizations, Advocates and others
DOC is inviting families of incarcerated WCCW & MCCCW, community-based organizations, advocates and others who are interested in participating in an open virtual listening session to discuss the potential closure of units.
- Participate via Microsoft Teams, click here to join the meeting
- To call in by phone (audio only): +1 253-372-2181, 368679325# | Phone Conference ID: 368 679 325#
September 22, 2023 – 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM - State and Local Elected Officials, City and County employees and others
DOC is inviting state and local elected officials, city and county employees and others who are interested in participating in an open virtual listening session to discuss the potential closure of units.
- Participate via Microsoft Teams, click here to join the meeting
- To call in by phone (audio only): +1 253-372-2181, 270780088# | Phone Conference ID: 270 780 088#
To further address its need for higher custody level beds, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) is opening the following living units:
- Clallam Bay Corrections Center – G & H Units (200 medium custody beds) in Fall/Winter 2023. Also, we will open C Unit (130 close custody beds) in the Fall/Winter 2023. The exact timing of these openings depends on staff availability.
- Coyote Ridge Corrections Center – F Unit (256 MI3 custody beds) in Fall/Winter 2023.
These units will provide an additional 456 medium/MI3 and 130 close custody beds. We will staff these units by utilizing the savings from the impending closure of Larch Corrections Center (LCC). Additionally, we will follow the Memo of Understanding with Teamsters Local 117 when the units were warm closed in 2021 and meet our collective bargaining obligations.
DOC recently decided to close Larch because of changes in sentencing laws, projections, and actual bed count that show the minimum-security beds at LCC are not needed for the foreseeable future. There are also additional significant benefits for incarcerated individuals available at minimum security facilities attached to major prisons, such as access to improved health care services, expanded mental health support, increased opportunities for education, vocation, and other programming. This is critical for successful reentry.
This decision to close LCC was carefully considered. A thorough examination of the overall correctional system within Washington state prisons was conducted as part of an initiative named the Best Bed Project. Now, DOC is entering the next phase of its Best Bed Project to ensure that the savings from the closure of LCC is promptly utilized continuing these efforts. Our forecasts reflect a clear need for more medium/MI3 and close custody beds.
Opening medium, MI3, and close custody units provide many benefits, including:
- Allows for individuals to move more quickly though the reception process to their assigned facility, reducing and avoiding floor sleepers.
- Provides needed capacity to move individuals who are being held in a restrictive housing setting but need a lower level of custody.
- Allows DOC to better manage rival prison gangs and keep separates, improving the safety of our staff and incarcerated individuals.
Larch Corrections Center Closure
After careful consideration the Washington State Department of Corrections will be warm closing Larch Corrections Center (LCC) in October 2023. The data is clear that decreasing incarceration trends, coupled with future forecasts, means keeping LCC open is no longer viable.
Every Larch employee will be offered a job within DOC. LCC’s location makes it difficult for employees to commute to another prison, and DOC may lose some valuable members as a result. DOC will also reach out to the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, Oregon’s Department of Corrections and other agencies to help those who are not interested or able to relocate.
Incarcerated individuals will go through the classification process to ensure they are placed in the facility that best suits their health, programming, education, and overall needs.
Changes to sentencing laws following the Blake Decision in 2021, along with mandated releases during the pandemic, have left DOC with a surplus of minimum-security beds. During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers revised the law and made drug possession a gross misdemeanor, but not a felony. As a result, there won’t be a need for these additional beds in the future.
Also, as DOC moves towards a more humane corrections system, incarcerated individuals need access to improved health care services, mental health support, opportunities for education and other programming that are more readily available at minimum-security living units attached to major prisons. DOC is determined to create better neighbors and reduce recidivism rates, and difficult decisions like this are unfortunately part of that process.
Crews at LCC have done an incredible job fighting wildfires throughout the state in recent years. DOC is working closely with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and will deploy crews from other facilities to ensure that DOC continues to support wildfire suppression efforts in the southern part of the state.
As before, when units were initially warm closed in 2021, DOC will continue to evaluate trends and the direct impacts to the department’s capacity and needs as DOC continues to make decisions as a result of declining admissions to prisons.
Larch Closure Frequently Asked Questions
What is happening?
The Department of Corrections will close the Larch Corrections Center (LCC) in Clark County in October 2023.
Why is this happening?
The department’s admission and intake trends show an increase in the need for higher security (custody) level beds, and a significant reduction in the need for lower security (custody) beds. There are nearly 800 vacant minimum security beds for men available within the department. DOC needs to leverage the funding used currently for unfilled low security beds to fund much-needed higher security beds within the system.
Laws have been changed in recent years to create more sentencing alternatives options and there has been an expansion of reentry centers and other alternatives such as Graduated Reentry where people spend part of their sentence in the community. Additionally, the recent Blake decision the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that felony convictions for simple drug possession under RCW 69.50.401(1) – is unconstitutional and void. During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers revised the law and made drug possession a gross misdemeanor. This means these convictions will not be felonies and will not result in prison sentences. These factors combine to mean, there are simply more beds in minimum security than needed for the current population statewide.
Why was LCC selected for closure?
LCC is a 480-bed minimum-security facility, with 115 staff, and a current census of 132 incarcerated adult males, and is located in a remote area in southwest Washington. It needs an estimated $31 million in repairs over the next decade. Using the Facility Condition Index, LCC has the greatest capital and maintenance needs of the 4 free-standing minimum security facilities and would require significant capital investments. Larch is the only freestanding minimum-security facility not located in close proximity to a major facility, which is further problematic because it does not allow for more timely access to mental health, medical, and substance disorder treatment when needed.
LCC’s remote location was also a factor in the decision with regard to its inmate population. Rural Clark County is not a highly desirable location for most of the incarcerated population who currently reside there. Many families and loved ones have reported having difficulty traveling to LCC over the years. Of the 119 people who were residing at LCC at the beginning of July and had an earned release date within the year, less than half had ties to Clark or neighboring counties, with the majority identifying with King or Pierce County.
What about the crews that help the Department of Natural Resources fight fires?
The department has had a long and successful partnership with DNR by supplying a total of 350 incarcerated individuals to provide fire suppression support. Seventy of those individuals currently reside at LCC. DOC remains committed to providing fire suppression supports alongside DNR, and local fire departments.
DOC does not anticipate any changes to its response time with the closure of LCC. We are prepared to either increase the number of firefighters at our other minimum-security facilities to meet the need or maintain the 70 inmate firefighters at a reentry center in Longview. We are actively working with DNR on which of these two options is preferable. This plan assumes DNR funding for DOC firefighter inmates remains unchanged.
What will happen to LCC employees?
There are 115 employees that will be impacted by the closure of LCC. All 115 employees there will be offered jobs at other DOC facilities. We also recognize that LCC’s location makes it difficult for employees to commute to another prison, and we have worked with the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, Oregon’s Department of Corrections, Clark County and other correctional agencies to help those who are not interested, or able, to relocate to find jobs. To date, we have been contacted by a number of employers that provide jail and prison services in the area about offering LCC employees jobs. It is our hope that all 115 employees will stay with the DOC. Employees who do wish to work at another DOC facility will be offered opportunities for employment and moving expenses.
What will happen to incarcerated individuals at LCC?
All incarcerated individuals are being assessed to ensure they are placed in a DOC facility that best suits their health, programming, education, and reentry needs. Sixty-six individuals residing at LCC have been transferred to minimum security camps at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center and the minimum-security camp at Washington Penitentiary. Both locations offer more diversity in vocational and educational programming as well as volunteer supports.
Importantly, those who have transferred out of LCC in recent weeks have been offered opportunities into the same type of programming they had prior to their move. None of the incarcerated individuals who were transferred were scheduled to graduate in the near future. Twenty-five individuals who were not enrolled in any education programs have been referred or are enrolled in courses or programs that were not available at LCC.
Why didn’t DOC request more funding from the Legislature to keep LCC open?
LCC cannot meet the need of the department to have more close and medium custody beds and we do not need more minimum custody beds. This warm closure allows us to re-balance beds to meet population needs and address capacity related issues such as overcrowding at our reception center and ensuring individuals are in beds that fit their classification level.
Does the agency anticipate closing more minimum-security beds?
DOC will continue to evaluate trends and the direct impacts to the department’s capacity and needs as we continue to make decisions to address declining admissions to prisons.
Department of Corrections
- News Spotlight: State of Washington v. Blake (Posted 3/29/2021)
- News Spotlight: Prison Bed Consolidation and Unit Closure (Posted 7/20/2021)
- Press Release: DOC Pledges to Drastically Reduce Use of Solitary Confinement and Announces Closure of Minimum-Security Prison (Posted 6/26/2023)
- Graduated Reentry
- Prison Facilities:
- Reentry Centers
- Restrictive Housing
- Sentencing Alternatives
- Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
- RCW 69.50.401 Prohibited Acts: A - Penalties
- Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs