Kent jail inmates could be taking it to the streets, police chief reports

Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan discusses plans for upcoming changes at the city jail during an April 21 City Council workshop.

Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan discusses plans for upcoming changes at the city jail during an April 21 City Council workshop.

Work crews composed of inmates from the Kent city jail could be picking up trash along city trails and streets this summer under a proposed alternative sentencing program expected to go later this spring to the City Council for approval.

Police Chief Steve Strachan delivered the recommendations of a city jail committee April 21 at an informational Council workshop. The Council had directed staff to look at ways to boost jail capacity after the city decided against joining other south county cities in building a new jail.

“If we make three significant changes, the facility will be sustainable for the long term with or without annexation,” Strachan told the Council.

The City Council is still considering whether to allow Panther Lake residents to vote on being annexed into Kent. The annexation would add about 24,000 residents to the city’s population of 86,000.

The city jail has a capacity of 120, but 80 to 100 inmates is a more manageable level, Strachan said. The facility opened in 1986 and houses misdemeanor offenders sentenced to less than one year. That includes offenses such as drunk driving, domestic violence, minor assaults and petty theft.

The three major recommendations from the jail committee include:

• Establish a work-crew system as an alternative to incarceration to keep many offenders out of the jail population:

Offenders would report each day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to serve on a work crew under the supervision of a correction officer. The work could include trash pickup along bike trails or in certain high-profile traffic areas. Jail staff would have the option to send people to the work crew program instead of jail. Offenders also could volunteer for the work crew rather than serving their full sentence in jail. Estimated cost, $20,000 to $30,000 per year for overtime for jail staff.

• Create a jail manager position to take daily responsibility for population management in an effort to keep capacity at 80 inmates or lower:

With a goal to maintain jail space for the highest-impact offenders, a jail population manager under a specific procedure could communicate with the police department and prosecutors to lower the jail population through book and release in certain cases as well as the work-crew system. Estimated cost, $50,000 per year plus benefits.

• Renovate and update the booking, locker and medical areas of the jail:

The booking area is outdated and inefficient, according to staff, the medical area is too small and staff locker rooms need to be enlarged. Structural improvements also will provide additional support in case of an earthquake. Estimated cost, $2 million to $3 million.

The jail proposal is expected to go to the Council’s Public Safety Committee within the next couple of months for approval and then to the full Council.

A federal grant from the Department of Justice could fund the work-crew overtime costs and the new jail manager position for at least the first year. City officials would like to fill the proposed new position this summer. A timeline for the jail renovation remains to be determined.

The city offers other programs such as work release and home detention. The work crew would be an additional way to keep the jail population down.

Eight to 10 inmates wearing orange vests with Kent Correctional Facility printed on the vests would go out each day to clean up trash or paint over graffiti. Certain high-risk offenders, such as those involved in domestic violence, would not be allowed on the work crews.

Glenn Phillips, a Kent Municipal Court judge, served on the committee, and said someone sentenced to mandatory time for first-degree driving while suspended would be a candidate for the work crew.

“They’re not a violent offender and they would have the opportunity to serve on a work crew and give back to the community rather than serve time in jail,” Phillips told the Council.

The jail task force included representatives of the city prosecutor’s office, jail, municipal court, probation department, the corrections officers union and the police department.

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