Pierce County Council appoints panel to study problems at county jail

Staff writerJanuary 29, 2014 

The Pierce County Council has appointed a panel to develop solutions for problems plaguing the deficit-ridden county jail.

The nine-member group will make recommendations over the next eight months. Its list of options to address include: changing misdemeanor jail rates, leasing jail space to other jurisdictions and examining alternatives to incarceration.

Council policy analyst Tom Swanson said he expects the panel will start meeting in February to develop a range of recommendations.

The group’s job is to propose remedies for the jail’s declining revenue and population. Both have plunged since last January, when Tacoma shifted its misdemeanor bookings to Fife’s jail for cheaper rates.

The nine members of the panel appointed Tuesday are: Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor; Undersheriff Eileen Bisson, the jail chief who is about to retire; County Executive Pat McCarthy; Budget and Finance Director Gary Robinson; Pierce County Council Chairman Dan Roach; County Council member Jim McCune, chairman of the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee; County Council member Stan Flemming; one representative of the corrections deputies guild; and one representative of the corrections captains or lieutenants unions.

Bisson, who is overseeing jail operations until she retires at the end of February, said the panel is “a great idea” and a chance to educate others about issues the jail is facing.

“We have always said it’s a group effort to get some of these resolutions,” Bisson said.

“I know there’ll be solutions out of it,” she said. “It’s just a matter of, ‘Are we able to implement those solutions?’ ”

The council discussed forming the working group during budget deliberations late last year.

In September, the council cut the jail budget’s by $3 million, laying off 16 corrections deputies to help offset a $5 million shortfall.

In November, the council reduced the jail’s spending for this year by $706,000 to make up for another projected loss in contract revenue.

The group’s recommendations are due to the County Council by Sept. 30, with some expected much earlier. Suggestions based on a misdemeanor jail rates study are to be completed by the end of March, according to the resolution, which was adopted unanimously. And recommendations based on an upcoming report on corrections operations are expected by the end of June.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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