Is this jail overcrowding solution too controversial to work?

Jun 1, 2015, 9:39 PM | Updated: Jun 2, 2015, 9:52 am
It would appear Washington State is suffering from an “inmate overflow problem.” We hav...
It would appear Washington State is suffering from an "inmate overflow problem." We have a bunch of criminals, but not a lot of jail space to accommodate. KIRO Radio's Jason Rantz offers one controversial solution. (AP photo)
(AP photo)

It would appear Washington state is suffering from an “inmate overflow problem.” We have a bunch of criminals, but not a lot of jail space to accommodate.

One obvious fix to it is to build more jails &#8212 something the state is looking into. They’re considering a new prison, which would be in south Thurston County, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. It would be a 700-bed prison that would specialize in inmates with mental illnesses, at a cost of about $189 million.

But even if this is built tomorrow &#8212 it won’t &#8212 we’d still have a problem.

We have about 3,500 offenders in the system with a mental health diagnosis, Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner told the Tacoma News Tribune.

So what do we do? What’s the plan? According to the Olympian, it might include sending some of our inmates out of state. They report:

A deal Warner’s agency signed May 13 with Florida-based GEO Group provides that outlet. The private prison company said the contract would allow its North Lake Correctional Facility in rural Michigan to house up to 1,000 Washington inmates.

Now this is controversial for a number of reasons, but there’s one point worth discussing in detail. It’s being raised by Loren Taylor, a prison reform advocate who used to work for the Department of Corrections. And according to the Olympian, she’s saying this kind of move is punishing the families of the inmates:

It’s hard enough for families to visit their loved ones incarcerated on the other side of the state, Taylor said, let alone the other side of the country.

You’re punishing the families again, said Taylor of Ocean Shores.

I am sympathetic to that point.

Let’s say you’re a 12-year-old kid and you are unfortunate in that your mom or dad decided to break the law. That’s not the kid’s fault &#8212 not by a long shot. I’d argue the kid is better off with supervised visits with his mom or dad, so the kid can learn the consequences of bad actions and the parent can be reminded of what they threw away by breaking the law. (This is all supposing the parent didn’t commit a heinous and violent act.)

That argument gets my sympathy but we can’t make policy decisions based on emotions (that’s how bad decisions are made).

And the truth is, the inmate decided to become a criminal. They decided to commit that crime and they’re the ones to blame for the situation they find themselves in, not the state. They’re the ones who said they’d rather risk getting sent to jail than be a model citizen for their child.

Related: Two anti-gay assaults being investigated by Seattle police

If we don’t have room for the criminals, then we don’t have room and we have to do something. Part of that should include looking at whether or not there is a societal benefit to keeping certain people in jail versus treatment centers and rehab.

I think we put too many people in jail for individual drug offenses when we shouldn’t. If you’re in jail still for marijuana related offenses that don’t include selling to kids or running a big illegal pot operation; if you are still in jail for something you did before legalization, you should be out. Period.

But that’s not how the system works and we need to do something with these people. It’s made even more important when we’re talking with inmates with mental health issues; they’re sick and need treatment. Wouldn’t it be the wrong move to keep them local and have them not get the treatment they need just so they can be near a family member? Wouldn’t we be better off getting them treatment?

So ultimately, I’m sympathetic to the claim that this is unfair on families (it is, in fact, unfair to families), but I’m unmoved because that sympathy doesn’t fix the problem.

What do you think?

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
  • listen to jason rantzTune in to AM 770 KTTH weekdays at 3-6pm toThe Jason Rantz Show.

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Is this jail overcrowding solution too controversial to work?