Washington state budget delays new penitentiary unit

WALLA WALLA — While the state budget approved by lawmakers last week avoided layoffs, the deal will mean a delay for a new addition to the Washington State Penitentiary.

Now nearing completion, the opening of one of two new medium security units at the prison will be set back to a yet-to-be determined date, said Chad Lewis, Department of Corrections spokesman. The second unit is expected to open by mid-August, he said.

Located in the prison’s West Complex, both units will house 256 inmates each for a total of 512 prisoners. Construction on the new facilities began last year.

According to The Associated Press, budget writers booked $7.7 million in savings from delaying the opening of the one medium security unit.

But the opening of even one unit will “have a positive impact” on the state’s prison system, Lewis said.

The new beds will give prison officials additional ability to manage prison populations so gang members are separated, prisoners are kept close to family if possible and offenders are sent to the appropriate custody level.

“It’s not just the number of beds, it’s the diversity of the population,” Lewis said. “The goal is to not just put (an offender) into any bed that’s available.”