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Tacoma inmates set to face short-term shuffle

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Anyone arrested for petty crimes in Tacoma might face some cell shuffling for the next few months as the city shifts its inmate housing back to Pierce County Jail, following the end of a contract Tacoma had with Fife.

Tacoma City Council unanimously approved four jail services contracts with Pierce County, Fife, the Nisqually Tribe and the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) in Des Moines with the goal of lowering jail costs and keeping inmates closer to courts and local services.

The need for the new contracts comes after Fife announced this spring that it was ending its contract with Tacoma to house misdemeanor criminals and those facing trial because Tacoma wouldn’t commit to a long-term deal.

Fife has become a jail broker of sorts for more than a dozen cities around Puget Sound, where inmates would be booked into Fife’s 34-bed jail before being shuttled to empty beds around the state. Fife needed about $500,000 to expand its own jail to continue to grow that practice, prompting the need for a long-term contract with Tacoma, which was its largest customer. Absent that deal, Fife had to end its contract with Tacoma to seek other options.

“Certainly it will affect our bottom line, but by how much will still have to be figured out,” said Fife City Manager Subir Mukerjee, noting that while revenues will go down because of the end of its contract with Tacoma, so too will expenses.

The contract with Tacoma had ended in May but was extended to the end of the month to allow time for Tacoma to shift to other options. The main option includes a new contract with Pierce County that will have Tacoma’s inmates being held in the Pierce County Jail in downtown Tacoma in increasing numbers in the coming months. The lag provides Pierce County a chance to ramp up staffing for the additional inmates, estimated to be about 75 by October.

But in the meantime, Tacoma inmates will be housed at the SCORE facility and at the Nisqually Tribe during the ramp up at the Pierce County Jail.

“Keeping as many pre-sentenced inmates in the Pierce County Jail as possible allows the Tacoma Municipal Court system to be most efficient, and we greatly appreciate the mutual understanding, cooperation and support extended to us by our partners,” said Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax.

The shift of inmates from Fife, which handled the booking and shuttling of inmates to various jails, to SCORE and the Nisqually facility means Tacoma will hire a jail services coordinator to manage the inmate traffic. But ultimately, the change will mean inmates will be closer to Tacoma’s courts at less taxpayer expense than under Tacoma’s contract with Fife. Savings are projected to be about $200,000 during the biennium.

“By proposing direct agreements with jail services providers – as well as central oversight once the City of Tacoma assumes responsibility for the coordination of jail services for Tacoma misdemeanants – we are looking at a better, more streamlined system as well as savings through the end of the 2015-2016 biennium,” said Broadnax.

Tacoma’s contract with SCORE comes to $97 per inmate per day, for example, as inmates are housed there while Pierce County ramps up and prepares a cellblock, or pod, to house Tacoma’s inmates. Pierce County would then charge Tacoma $75.80 per inmate per day for housing inmates at that facility. By 2016, about half of Tacoma’s inmates would be housed at the county jail while the other half will be houses at the Nisqually facility at a cost of $67.50 per inmate per month. Tacoma has about 150 to 180 misdemeanor or pre-trial inmates each month.

Tacoma’s contract boosts Pierce County Jail’s financials, as it rebounds from a $5 million deficit in 2013 that forced layoffs to the point that it announced it could no longer house misdemeanor inmates from Tacoma and about a dozen other cities. Pierce County is required to house felony inmates as well as those facing felony charges, while cities are required to provide for their own misdemeanor inmates.

Tacoma will continue to monitor jail costs and options, including home-detention technology and diversion programs to keep costs down but still punish wrongdoing.

“We recognize that crimes are going to be committed and people need to pay for those crimes,” Councilmember Victoria Woodards said.

Jail contract snapshots

Fife’s 34-bed jail serves as a booking facility of inmates who are then shuttled to empty jail beds around the state.

Resolution No. 39215: An agreement with the City of Fife to extend the jail services agreement to June 30, at a rate of $80 per inmate, per day and $20 per inmate booking and $195 per inmate, per trip between the jail and Tacoma Municipal Court. Fife will continue to provide Tacoma with electronic home monitoring of low-risk inmates sentenced to house arrest through a separate agreement. 

Resolution No. 39216: An agreement with Pierce County to provide jail services for Tacoma from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2020 at a rate of $75.80 per inmate, per day, a savings of 22 percent over the current $92 daily rate. Tacoma will also pay Pierce County $593,976 to renovate the jail and hire and train correctional officers. The rate would drop to $75.25 in 2016.

Resolution No. 39217: An agreement with the Nisqually Tribe for jail and prisoner transportation services from July 1 through mid-2017, to house Tacoma's sentenced inmates and covers transportation needs at a cost of $67.50 per inmate per day. That’s an 18 percent savings over Fife’s $80-a-day rate.

Resolution No. 39218: A short-term emergency agreement with the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) in Des Moines to provide jail services for Tacoma from July 1 to Dec. 31 at a cost of $97 per inmate per day.

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