Jailhouse financing is growing issue

FORKS – Forks Mayor Needra Reed has her arms open, willing to welcome criminals from all of Clallam County into her city’s jail to relieve overcrowding at the Clallam County jail in Port Angeles.

And she’ll charge less.

But, she said, law enforcement agencies in eastern Clallam County often don’t seem to want to make the drive to Forks, at least not often enough.

So, to pay her police officers’ salaries, which are funded primarily by keeping her 40-bed jail near capacity, the city contracts with 10 small police agencies in Western Washington.

At any given time, the Forks jail population could be comprised of inmates from across the area.

That includes Granite Falls in Snohomish County, Algona in King County, Ruston in Pierce County and half a dozen Grays Harbor County towns, in addition to inmates from western Clallam County.

But Jefferson County, which is sending some of its longterm inmates to Wenatchee in Chelan County, is not one of Forks’ contracting agencies.

“I’ve never had any interest from Jefferson County,” Reed said.

She said she may contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office about an arrangement with Forks, which is closer than Chelan County.

“I will market beds,” she said.

Despite Reed calling for county police agencies to make more use of her jail, 15 of Fork’s 40 beds held Clallam County or Port Angeles inmates on Saturday.

Only 10 inmates, nine of them from Hoquiam, were from out of Clallam County.

The rest were from Forks or neighboring LaPush.

“We have a full jail, but that’s because we’ve had some significant arrests,” Reed said.

Contracts with the Forks jail run between $45 and $62 per inmate per day, with Clallam County agencies paying the least.

The Clallam County jail, with a capacity of 90 beds, charges Sequim and Port Angeles $62 per inmate per day, said Clallam County jail superintendent Ron Sukert.

While it seems cheaper to keep prisoners in Forks rather than Port Angeles, transporting them to and from Forks is a money and time issue, he said.

Pre-sentence inmates, those with scheduled hearings in the courthouse two floors above the county jail, made up 82 percent of the population in March, the last month that data was available, Sukert said.

Dennis Dickson, senior assistant city attorney in Port Angeles, said the city has been increasingly using the Forks jail to house post-sentence offenders, and has been saving money.

In 2006, Port Angles was billed for 1,556 inmate days at Forks, a major jump from the 763 inmate days from 2005 and the 326 from 2004.

The number of Port Angeles inmates in the county jail has increased as well.

The city was billed by the county for 4,535 inmate days in 2006, 3,179 in 2005.

Dickson said most inmates in Forks are those already sentenced, so they do not need transport to Port Angeles for court hearings.

“It’s a very good thing for us that there is that option available, a very good thing,” Dickson said.

“Because we need to save money wherever we can as a city.”

Relatively few new arrests made in central Clallam County are taken to Forks, but police agencies said they will make the drive if the county jail is full.

It is “a relatively rare occurrence,” said Terry Gallagher, acting Port Angeles police chief.

“From the police perspective, my staff has the option, if the Clallam County jail is full, to take to the Forks jail if there is a compelling public safety reason.”

“Once the decision is made that this person needs to be in jail, how to do that becomes a secondary issue; we’ll call an (off-duty) officer.”

The Sequim Police Department grumbled in mid-May when it had to take a man arrested for indecent exposure to Forks because the county jail was full, then pick him up in the morning for his appearance in Clallam County District Court.

“This required about six hours of transport time . . .

“This impacts the department by removing specially assigned officers from their duties to assist with call taking,” said a press release from the Sequim Police Department.

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