Washington’s state prison system has room for 17,498 inmates. On March 31, the Department of Corrections’ 12 facilities were nearly 1,000 heads over capacity, with 18,426 people in prison.
The DOC signed a contract to house those 1,000 extra inmates at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan. Known as the Facility, the Michigan prison in owned and operated by private prison company called the GEO Group. News of the contract broke after GEO Group issued an announcement lauding the potential future profits to their shareholders May 21:
“The Facility is expected to begin the intake process in the fourth quarter of 2015 with a gradual ramp over several months. At full occupancy, the contract would generate approximately $24 million in annualized revenues.”
But even though Washington needs more space to house prisoners and inked a contract with a private prison company willing to house 1,000 of those prisoners, DOC Communications Director Jeremy Barclay says there are no plans to send inmates to the Facility.
“There are no current plans to utilize the contract with the GEO Group,” says Barclay. “In the event we need to utilize the contract in the future, advance notice will be provided to offenders, families, and other stakeholders.”
Why did the DOC enter into the contract if there are no plans to use it in the immediate future?
Barclay says a similar contract to use out-of-state beds if needed has been in place for 10 years. No inmates have been sent out of state since 2010, though. Barclay says the contract allows “flexibility” and “greater facility safety” for everyone.
According to the contract, both female and male offenders could be sent to the Facility. While in Michigan, inmates will be paid $2.00 per day to work inside the prison.
The Washington DOC would pay GEO Group $60 per inmate per day, a significant savings from the average in-state cost of $90.84 per day in 2014. GEO Group would even cover the cost of transporting the first 1,000 inmates to Michigan.
The only private prison in Washington— the GEO Group-owned and operated Northwest Detention Center, which houses up to 1,575 immigrant detainees in Tacoma — has seen frequent hunger strikes in recent years. After a visit to the NWDC, U.S. Congressman Adam Smith introduced a bill
seeking to mandate better conditions for immigrant detainees. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays GEO group $165 per day to house detainees at the NWDC. In April, conditions at a facility the company operates in Texas led to a scathing audit from the Department of Justice
GEO Group Executive Director Pablo Paez says the Michigan prison won't be ready to house inmates for a few months.
“While the North Lake Facility is expected to be ready to provide these services beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015, there are no concrete inmate transfer dates specified in the contract,” says Paez. “GEO is proud to have begun a public-private partnership with the Washington DOC and will be ready when needed to provide high-quality, comprehensive correctional services.”
DOC's Andrew Garber says the contract is not intended to house the 1,000 current extra inmates, those inmates are already housed.