Prison experts, not lawmakers, should lead as cuts pondered

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Aren't those overseeing the day-to-day operations of our prisons in the best position to determine where the cuts should be made?

The specter of more job cuts to the state's prison system, which could include significant job losses at the Washington State Penitentiary here, is concerning to this community for obvious reasons.

The prison is in our backyard.�

But everybody in Washington state has reason to be concerned, and not just about the job losses. It's the way the Legislature has inserted itself into the process of deciding exactly how the Department of Corrections will implement cuts.

The system is not supposed to work that way.

The Legislature -- our elected senators and representatives -- should set policy and let the executive branch of government, in this case the DOC, carry out that policy. After all, aren't those overseeing the day-to-day operations of our prisons in the best position to determine where the cuts should be made?

Yet, lawmakers have decided to micromanage this process -- with a strange twist.

Instead of deciding how many jobs would be cut at the various prisons, lawmakers called for an outside study that would consider a variety of factors inside and outside of the various prisons. The study, which is expected to cost about $500,000, is being done so quickly (it's supposed to be wrapped up with a bow by Nov. 1) that its findings will be suspect. Are lawmakers just buying some political cover?

�When lawmakers made the decision to cut funding from the prison system in the first few months of the year, the Department of Corrections wisely offered a plan.

The proposal called for closing one unit each at McNeil Island and Washington Corrections Center, closing the Ahtanum View Corrections Center, the Larch Corrections Center and Pine Ridge Corrections Center and delaying the opening of a unit at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center until next July.

Cuts to the Washington State Penitentiary were not being considered at that time.

Now that the study is being conducted at supersonic speed (relative to most government actions), significant job cuts at the penitentiary are now a possibility.

We concede to being biased, but not simply because the penitentiary is in Walla Walla. It's because we have seen over the years how important it is to have a well-trained, skilled staff running the penitentiary so that staff and inmates are safe.

Is that why the penitentiary wasn't on the initial list of cuts? We don't know for certain. We aren't experts in corrections -- and neither are most state legislators.

�Let the professionals come up with solutions untainted by legislative meddling and politics.

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