MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

King County to replace correctional facility with modern jail, behavioral health center

Jun 17, 2024, 12:45 PM

Photo: Exterior of King County Jail....

Exterior of King County Jail. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

A recent report from King County officials outlines plans to replace the aging King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) with a modern facility designed to better serve the current needs of inmates and the community. The report, mandated by a $100,000 proviso from the county council, will be introduced at Tuesday’s King County Council meeting.

It highlights King County Executive Dow Constantine’s urgent request for a new facility that prioritizes efficiency, safety and the treatment of behavioral health issues.

One of the major hurdles in the project is funding. The report stated preliminary cost estimates for a new facility exceed $1 billion. King County will likely need voter-approved bonds or levy lifts to finance the project. However, funding the preliminary design and siting work required for a ballot measure poses an additional challenge, given the financial constraints of the county’s general fund.

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New King County jail would focus on behavioral health treatments

In the report, Constantine identified key features for a new facility, though detailed planning has yet to commence. The envisioned facility would house fewer beds, emphasizing diversion and behavioral health treatment. It would include a co-located behavioral health facility and provide appropriate medical and psychological care, preferably near Harborview Medical Center.

It would also accommodate all inmate classifications, including high-security, and maintain proximity to the King County Courthouse for in-custody court appearances, along with incorporating modern design standards for efficiency and improved environments for inmates and staff. Lastly, it would offer 24/7 intake, transfer, and release facilities.

The location of the current KCCF is also valuable, with potential for generating significant revenue through sale or lease, which could fund parts of the new facility.

The replacement of KCCF is part of a broader County Civic Campus Plan, which aims to address aging infrastructure, reduce energy use and integrate housing and retail spaces. Listening sessions with stakeholders have suggested that the new facility should have a therapeutic focus, better family meeting spaces and flexible design for future needs. The planning team aims to complete this phase by summer, with proposals expected in the 2025 budget.

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King County Correctional Facility was outdated when it opened

The KCCF, which opened in 1986, was outdated from the start according to Constantine, requiring high staffing ratios and plagued by construction and security system issues. Today, it houses 744 individuals, many with medical and psychological needs, and receives 85% of the county’s bookings due to its central location in downtown Seattle and broader operating hours compared to the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC). The county does not intend to close the MRJC located in Kent.

Despite significant investments in recent years, the report stated facility remains inefficient and ill-suited for modern correctional needs. As the population it serves has shifted to include more individuals with behavioral health issues, the need for a facility that can provide adequate treatment has become apparent.

Constantine has pushed back the closure of the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CCFJC) to 2028.  The original goal to close the juvenile detention facility was 2024. The CCFJC opened in 2020 at a cost of $242 million and features a more rehabilitative approach to juvenile justice, containing modern classrooms, a library, a gym and a medical clinic along with juvenile courtrooms.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, or email him here.

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