Friday, January 29, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Larch left in the lurch

Despite ongoing efforts by Southwest Washington’s legislative delegation in Olympia, it looks like reports of Larch Corrections Center’s death are anything but exaggerated.

Due to unprecedented state budgetary pressures, the closure of Larch will be expedited, with full shutdown of the 53-year old facility expected in June, according to state Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver).

The loss of Larch is one primarily of jobs, with approximately 141 staff and contract workers affected by the closure. But the axing of this facility and the transfer of its inmates to jails dotted across the state represents another kind of loss – one of community.

It may sound strange to characterize a jail as being part of a community, but minimum-security Larch remains something of an anomaly in its level of integration with the world outside its fences.

With Larch’s demise, initiatives like the prison’s Adult Educational and vocational training programs will disappear. As will any repeats of last October’s pick-up basketball game between the prison team and Clark College alumni and current players, one that reportedly ended with one of the inmates asking school president Bob Knight about learning opportunities there.

Instead, according to legislators briefed on the closure plan, the mainly low-risk offenders at Larch will be shipped off to mostly maximum-security facilities known to be training grounds for violence and overall increased criminality.

To head off closure, legislators plan to meet with Gov. Chris Gregoire next week in a last ditch attempt to save the corrections center.

In that meeting, those lawmakers should first and foremost make the case to preserve dozens of local jobs. However, they should also advocate for a facility that encourages positive contact between inmates and law-abiding citizens – instead of restocking warehouses for criminals.

In the long run, in terms of taxpayer money saved through reduced incarceration costs, keeping a transitional facility like Larch open may be more cost effective than shutting it down.

1 comments:

Christine Blackford Pienkowski said...

OH, NO! This is, in my opinion, an incredibly short sighted and foolish move. What a major disappointment!