State senator questions Stafford Creek expenses

OLYMPIA — A Republican state senator from Lakewood says Stafford Creek prison officials spent up to $50,000 to create and furnish a “war wagon” and buy “useless supplies and equipment” to catch potential escapees, equipment “that will probably never be used,” he said.

Sen. Mike Carrell, who sits on the Senate Human Services & Corrections committee, blasted the state Department of Corrections Monday for allowing the end-of-the-year expenditures.

“That money should have gone back to the state coffers,” Carrell said in a phone interview.

Corrections Deputy Director Dan Pacholke said the expenses were legitimate to supply Stafford Creek’s inmate recovery team, riot control team and crisis management team.

Carrell’s office provided an accounting of end-of-the-year expenditures from Stafford Creek and said the expenditures came to Carrell’s attention when he and state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, sent an e-mail to 9,000 Corrections employees looking for budget cutting advice.

Carrell received a letter from an anonymous source who claimed to be a Stafford Creek employee. The letter, also turned over to The Daily World, alleges that Stafford Creek Superintendent Pat Glebe told his staff to “spend money and spend it quick due to the approaching end of the fiscal year. These are monies that should have been returned surplus to the state budget, but were instead used to purchase unnecessary equipment for an already well equipped and established Inmate Recovery Team. … Our Special Teams office is so full of useless equipment, you can barely walk through it at one time.”

Carrell said he looked into the matter and found it was a legitimate complaint.

“We have the documentation,” Carrelll said.

Glebe said his budget did have some wiggle room at the end of the year, but said the expenses were wholey appropriate.

“I never considered it extra money,” Glebe said. “I considered it an opportunity to improve staff safety. It’s not wasted equipment on our part.”

“I don’t believe it was end of the year rush to spend it,” Pacholke added. “Superintendent Glebe is a frugal budget manager. He did do well with his budget last year. For the last three years at least it’s been very dismal budget times. He’s been a really top notch budget manager at that prison. Some of the readiness response teams didn’t have the equipment they needed and he felt it was compromising his ability to do our core work of public safety. He tried to prioritize his investment in these emergency response items.”

Carrell says that a large 1991 Grumman vehicle was transferred to Stafford Creek as surplus from the now-abandoned McNeil Island Corrections Center, and retrofitted to be used as the facility’s Inmate Recovery Vehicle to be used as a mobile command center if an imate were ever to escape.

Carrell points out that if an inmate were to escape, the jurisdiction may very well not even be the state prison’s, but, in this case, the county’s. Grays Harbor County already has a mobile command center.

Pacholke says that’s true, however, the prison also works hand-in-hand with local jurisdictions in escape situations “and they often welcome our help.”

But Carrell says that Stafford Creek has “tricked out” the vehicle with mud flaps and special “ChromaBase” paint. It also ordered a 365-degree infrared system to see in all directions at night at a cost of $3,249. Pacholke said the infrared device was ordered, but then canceled.

“They also spent more than $1,500 on a push-button, automatic awning to be mounted on the side of their war wagon!” Carrell said. “To me, that borders on the ridiculous.”

Carrell says the prison also spent $714 to purchase “SEAL Pup knives,” although Carrell says no one at Stafford Creek has been trained in fighting with knives; as well as $4,145 on night vision goggles, nearly $3,500 on a generator for the recovery vehicle, $564 on new slings for their guns, $85 for a seven DVD set for weapons training, as well as a number of artificial plastic Colt M-4 firearms.

“Why do they need fake weapons?” Carrell said. “Why can’t they just take the clip out of their existing weapons? If they can’t handle their existing weapons, something else is wrong here.”

Carrell said he’s worried that the expenditures at Stafford Creek may be an example of how Corrections spends its end-of-the-year resources at all of its prisons. He’s asking for the state Department of Corrections to account for its expenditures.

“If every prison spent $50,000 to $100,000 just because they had money to blow before the end of the year, maybe there’s a lot of money going to waste out there,” he said. “What I want to know is if every prison has a war wagon. And, what in the Sam Hill was Stafford Creek doing before to deal with escapees. I’ve given the department plenty of time to address my concerns and they failed to it. … At a time when state taxpayers are finding their pockets empty, I think that kind of mindset is exactly why people don’t trust government.”

Pacholke says the knives and other gear are a “perfectly acceptable” expense because they are part of standard wilderness gear, needed for an inmate recovery team to hunt down an escapee in the forests around Stafford Creek.

“I can understand the senator’s position,” he said. “These are tough times in state government. We need to maintain those readiness systems.”

Pacholke said the van and a related crisis negotiation team truck, a 1999 GMC, were both retrofitted at a cost of $19,000. Both would have cost “four to five times that amount” had they been purchased new and not upgraded from older models.

Glebe said that inmate labor is used to retrofit the vehicle at a cost savings, as well.

Pacholke said the Inmate Response Team has been activated six times in the past two years and each time for multiple days at a time. The new mobile command center has a generator needed to power critical communication devices and give the team a place to stage their pursuit efforts.

Glebe said that he considers the vehicle a “command center for the state,” because his Inmate Response Team responds not just to incidents at Stafford Creek but other nearby prisons, as well.

Glebe welcomes Sen. Carrell to tour Stafford Creek and take a look at the vehicle, himself.

“I never have a problem justifying how we spend taxpayer money,” Glebe said. “It’s good to ask questions.”