The Legislature has authorized creating 200 beds for work release between June 30, 2020 and June 30, 2021. Fifty of these beds will be allocated to Pierce County during this period.
This action is not COVID-related but is intended to fill a need for inmates to transition out of prison in a way that reduces the chance of re-offending. But, COVID social distancing has inhibited the ability for me and my colleagues to do the kind of community outreach needed to ensure that you are informed and have input. I believe in being transparent with our public in these matters. So much so that I wrote a letter to the Governor, signed by the Executive and all Councilmembers, that expresses our concerns. In the letter, we encouraged the Governor to postpone the work release timeline until we can meet and work with our communities.
We in government should be working together, not shifting problems from one jurisdiction to the other. The Governor and Legislature should take into consideration how their actions impact local governments, local providers of services and the community at large.
Separate from the work release order, the Governor announced the Department of Corrections would be releasing inmates from prison before their release date to provide “social distancing” in order to lessen the exposure to COVID 19 among inmates. He also did a similar thing with patients in the civil unit at Western State Hospital. I understand the reasoning. We are all interested in controlling this virus and that should include those inside our State institutions. It is the unintended consequences of this action that I am concerned about.
I contacted our local Senators and Representatives and pointed out several issues from all these matters: the release of inmates and behavioral healthcare patients to our community. You can read the letter here.
In summary, work release concerns aside, adding the caseload from the prisons and Western State Hospital to our local providers impacts their ability to achieve social distancing, adds to the workload of an already overloaded staff, makes it difficult for the Health Department to do contact tracing, and impacts the budgets of those that provide services – budgets that are already stretched thin.