Visiting Prisons

View of the diesel tank farm. An Island prison has a lot of infrastructure.
View of the diesel tank farm. An Island prison has a lot of infrastructure.

I’ve been trying to visit everywhere we spend a billion dollars or more per biennium, and the prison system definitely makes the list. This month I got a chance to visit McNeil Island, a very creepy place. We have a treatment facility on the island for dangerous sex predators, and a former prison. We closed the prison down a few years ago because it was very expensive to operate. It was built as a federal prison sometime in the 19th century and you can tell.

I took a number of pictures of the closed prison, but left my camera in the car for the visit to the treatment facility. It’s not a prison – it’s run by DSHS, not the prison system, and it doesn’t have guard towers with guys with rifles. It does have an amazing amount of razor wire though – it looks like a cargo ship filled with the stuff had a very dramatic accident.

The pictures of the closed prison are weird, except for the one of Rep. Zack Hudgins climbing the security fence to get out.

I guess I was struck by how much infrastructure we need to run a prison on an island. It was originally built there because the water was an effective highway in the days before motor cars, not because it was more secure (it’s not). There’s a water treatment plant, an entire reservoir, three docs, a boat shop, multiple ferries, a fire department with two fire engines and two ambulances, etc. There used to be 1,700 inmates. There are now a couple of hundred.

We could save millions if we housed the treatment facility on the mainland, but the fight over where it was (not) located would be epic.  The island itself is gorgeous. There are about 44,000 acres in the middle of Puget Sound that would make a great park, except for the sex predator facility. This will require some thought.

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.