The Hoquiam City Jail has only been open for 18 days, and it’s already hosted more than 80 people.
The city closed the jail in 2002 due to budget cuts and re-opened the facility April 1 after securing a contract with the state Department of Corrections, under which the state pays the Hoquiam Police Department to house felons who have violated parole. The DOC pays the police department $80 per inmate per day.
Police Chief Jeff Myers said the jail houses between 10 and 12 DOC inmates per day, leaving plenty of beds open for people arrested by the Hoquiam Police Department. He said the contract should cover a large portion of jail operation costs, which are estimated to be $500,000 a year.
“It took us a long time to get to this point, but (the jail re-opening) is meeting all of our expectations,” Myers said. “And I’m excited to see what we can accomplish with it.”
On April 16, the jail housed 22 people — 12 DOC inmates and 10 Hoquiam inmates. The jail has 18 bunks, and the remaining inmates sleep on mattresses on the floor. Officer Roy Kinney, one of the officers responsible for running the jail, said it’s common for the jail to be at full capacity, and he sees some of the inmates over and over.
“I know pretty much most of them by first name,” Kinney said, “especially the frequent fliers. When you see them over and over and over and they’re not making any improvements, that’s usually because they have some sort of substance abuse problem.”
Many of the people who come through haven’t finished high school and haven’t had much luck finding jobs. Kinney said many of them turn to substances, such as methamphetamine, to escape the hopelessness of their lives.
All of the Hoquiam inmates are serving time for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, which are prosecuted through the Hoquiam Municipal Court. Misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Gross misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Hoquiam inmates serving time for more serious crimes are sent to the Grays Harbor County Jail.
The DOC inmates housed at the Hoquiam City Jail are felons who have already served their time in prison and have been arrested for minor parole violations. These inmates serve short sentences, ranging from three to 30 days in jail, as part of a state program called Swift and Certain. Myers said many of these inmates are arrested in the Hoquiam.
“Holding them accountable and getting them on the right track is important for us,” Myers said.
Although the jail re-opening has gone smoothly, the police department is still ironing out some logistics, Myers said. So far, staffing the facility has been the biggest concern. Operating the jail is a five-person job, and Kinney was the department’s only police services officer prior to the jail’s opening. Since then, the department has added four new PSOs — two are fully trained, and two are waiting to attend the police academy.
“We’re still bringing in temps to fill shifts and the officers we have are working a lot of overtime,” Myers said. “But hopefully we’ll have that figured out soon.”
Myers said he’s happy with the PSO team the department has assembled, as it combines Hoquiam Police Department veterans and new officers with fresh ideas.
Kinney has worked for the Hoquiam Police Department for 35 years. He spent his first 32 years as a police officer, eventually becoming a sergeant. He retired in 2009 and signed on as the department’s only PSO.
“I retired on Friday and came back to work on Monday,” Kinney said. “Same workplace, different job.”
Before the jail re-opened, Kinney’s job required a lot of driving. Hoquiam inmates were housed at the jail in Forks or at the Grays Harbor County Jail.
Officer Sarah Boggs is one of the department’s new hires, and has adapted to the job quickly. Kinney said she is kind to the inmates without letting them get away with anything. Of the department’s five PSOs, Boggs is the only female.
“She’s like the mother that most of them never ever had,” Kinney said.
Boggs said she loves working at the jail, as the job is rewarding and fast-paced.
“I love running around all day,” she said. “It’s what keeps me going. Sometimes I’ll work a full shift and feel like I’ve only been there for two hours.”
PSOs have several duties when running the jail, such as administering medication and handing out lunch. But the worst part of the job, Kinney said, is the relentless paperwork.
“All the paperwork that’s generated, that’s the nightmare for us,” Kinney said. “It never ends.”
PSOs carry guns much of the time, but never while working in the jail. Their radios are equipped with an orange button they can use to alert other officers if they run into trouble — which is rare, as the inmates usually comply with officers’ requests. Kinney, Boggs and the other officers don’t follow the stereotype of the the harsh warden barking commands — they cut down on conflict by treating the inmates like human beings.
“When you run an operation like this, it’s much easier when you have voluntary compliance,” Kinney said. “It’s not like we’re coddling them or anything, we’re just treating them with respect. Mutual respect is what we’re going for.”