Washington Department of Corrections to close one of 12 prisons

Steep drops in the incarcerated population prompted the shutdown of Clark County’s Larch Corrections Center.

a photo of Larch Corrections Center

The Washington Department of Corrections announced it will close Larch Corrections Center, a minimum-security prison in Yacolt, Clark County. (Photo from Washington Department of Corrections)

One of Washington’s 12 prisons is set to close this autumn amid falling numbers of incarcerated people, the state Department of Corrections has announced.

DOC plans to close Larch Corrections Center, a minimum-security 240-bed facility in southwest Washington in Yacolt, Clark County. The facility can be reopened later if the need arises, according to the agency, and its 115 staffers will be offered jobs at other corrections facilities in the state.

The announcement marks the first prison closure in Washington since the state shuttered McNeil Island Corrections Center in 2011, according to the statement, although some parts of the Monroe Correctional Complex were closed in 2021.

Washington’s prison population has declined in recent years, in part after more than 1,000 individuals were released during the pandemic as a public-health measure. Those released were not in prison for either violent offenses or sex offenses, and were close to the end of their sentence, the agency said at the time.

Right now, only 70% of available beds in the state’s dozen prisons are occupied and that decline is expected to continue, according to a statement from DOC.

“We already have one of the lowest rates of incarceration in the nation,” said Corrections Secretary Cheryl Strange in the statement. “DOC has worked diligently to lower recidivism rates, create better neighbors and ensure that incarcerated individuals don’t return to us once they get out. Of course, our continued success means we can no longer afford to operate all of the prisons we currently have.”

The announced closure of Larch Corrections Center didn’t get a warm welcome by the union that represents many corrections officers.

In a statement, Teamsters Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer John Scearcy called the decision to close the facility “shortsighted and would be detrimental to prison staff and their families, the incarcerated population, and the local community.”

“Closure of the facility would require these families to uproot and sever ties with local businesses, schools and their neighbors,” Scearcy said in prepared remarks. “The families of incarcerated individuals would be harmed by the closure as well and have to travel longer distances to visit their loved ones who are assigned to other prisons.”

The facility also houses and works with state wildfire crews, Scearcy added, and “Relocating the staff and incarcerated individuals who work on these crews will represent an important lost resource that has served and protected the local community for years.”

In this week’s announcement, DOC also declared it is developing “a comprehensive plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement, while not compromising staff safety, that will be unveiled later this year.”

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