Frequently Asked Questions
The Region’s Municipal Jail Needs
Siting and Design
The Region’s Municipal Jail Needs
1. What is this North/East Cities group all about? Which cities are part of it?
The North/East Cities group is composed of 23 cities located in north and east King County, including Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle and Shoreline. These cities have been working together to replace the misdemeanant jail beds they are losing at King County jails at the end of 2012. Together, the cities need approximately 640 jail beds. Seattle estimates it will need 445 jail beds for misdemeanant offenders over the next 20 years, while the north and east cities in the county estimate they will need almost 200 beds. Within the NEC, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle and Shoreline represent more than 90% of the municipal jail bed needs for this region. These cities identified potential sites within the north and east portions of King County where a new regional municipal jail could be built. The NEC has identified six sites for further study through the environmental review process (EIS) to determine their suitability.
2. Did all of the cities in the North/East Cities submit sites? How many? Where were they?
The five cities that use the largest number of municipal jail beds — Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle and Shoreline — identified 12 potential sites for evaluation. See www.necmunicipaljail.org/SiteSelection.htm for a map/list of all the sites. The original 12 potential sites were evaluated for their suitable and the list was narrowed down to five. In addition, King County agreed to include a County-owned site in downtown Seattle for environmental review.
3. What factors did the cities use to submit sites? Did all of the cities use the same factors? The cities all considered multiple factors including adequate acreage, adjacent use, regional access, ease of acquisition and ownership, and geographic distribution throughout the service area. To assure that the process was as objective as possible, the North/East Cities defined a set of factors for the location of a regional jail facility. For additional details, please see the site evaluation methodology report and site comparison chart.
4. What factors did the North/East Cities use to get to the list of six sites? Who made the decision?
The cities hired a consultant who specializes in correctional facilities, Carter Goble Lee (CGL), to help them assess the 12 potential sites. Once these assessments were complete, the North/East Cities identified five sites for further study through a joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. This principle guided the group’s decision: there should be geographic distribution of sites within north and east King County (i.e., the potential sites should not all be located in one city). To achieve a geographic distribution among the northeast region, the North/East Cities decided to advance two sites from Seattle, one site from Shoreline, and two sites from the eastside for further study through the EIS process.
Seattle initially identified four possible candidate sites: two in north Seattle and two in south Seattle. To maintain geographic equity within the City, Seattle selected one site in north Seattle and one site in south Seattle for further evaluation in the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) process. Of the two north sites, the Armory Way site received a higher ranking, both in the CGL assessment, as well as in an assessment by City staff. Of the two south sites, the Marginal Way site received a higher ranking, both in the CGL assessment, as well as in an assessment by City staff.
Shoreline initially identified three possible candidate sites. Two sites scored high in the assessment from CGL. The highest scoring site was deemed too difficult to integrate because it is owned by the State of Washington, which is already working on a comprehensive plan for its future use. In addition, the other site recently became available for purchase. As a result, Shoreline’s second highest scoring site was selected for further study in the EIS process.
Five possible candidate sites on the eastside were initially identified. Of those possible sites, the two sites with the highest scores from CGL were selected for further study in the EIS process.
In addition, the NEC is exploring the possibility of working with King County to develop an annex to the County jail in downtown Seattle. The NEC has asked King County to include the vacant County-owned site located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Jefferson Street – which is adjacent to the King County jail – as one of the sites for consideration under the EIS.
For additional details, please see the site evaluation methodology report and site comparison chart.
5. Are cities considering a mid-rise or high-rise design?
It is too soon to say what design will be selected as it will be driven by the demands of the site itself. Now that potential sites have been identified, the North/East Cities need to conduct an environmental review of each site.
6. Who will make the final decision on a site now that multiple jurisdictions are involved?
The North/East Cities are early in a long process that will include many opportunities for public comment and environmental review. The five principal North/East Cities plan to identify a preferred site in early 2010. The process for identifying a preferred site is provided in an agreement signed by all of the North/East Cities. The legislative body with jurisdiction over the preferred site will conduct its own process before making a final decision regarding the site.
7. Will you be doing additional public meetings now that you have a new list of sites?
Yes, the North/East Cities will hold public meetings in December 2008 for those sites that have not already had a forum. Exact dates, times and locations are posted here. In addition, environmental impact statement (EIS) scoping meetings will be held in January 2009. Exact dates, times and locations are posted here.
8. Why are sites in the north and east being considered if Seattle uses about two-thirds of the 640 beds?
The cities have committed to a regional process and to identifying sites throughout the region. There are significant cost efficiencies to working together on a regional solution rather than every city working separately. While the City of Seattle does need the largest number of municipal jail beds, because the King County jail is located in downtown Seattle, Seattle hosts felony inmates from all of the cities and will continue to do so in the future regardless of where the municipal jail is sited.
9. Why do we even need a jail for misdemeanors? Far too many Americans are locked up.
The trend in the region has been for fewer misdemeanants to spend time in jail. The North/East Cities are working to continue to reduce the number of people who must spend time in jail for misdemeanor offenses. The City of Seattle, for example, has cut the number of people jailed for misdemeanors by 38% in the past 10 years. However, state law requires that some offenders, such as people with a history of driving while impaired, be jailed. The law also mandates booking and jail time for anyone charged with domestic violence. Public safety demands that some people spend time in jail in order to protect others. Many of the people booked in jail were previously diverted or released from jail – but then failed to come back for their court hearing, resulting in arrest and a new jail booking.
10. Why don’t we just change drug laws and policy instead?
The North/East Cities must plan how they will house misdemeanor offenders based on what the law is today, not what it might be. Laws relating to drug use are largely dictated by state law, which limits the cities’ options. For example, even if society stopped jailing people charged with misdemeanor drug offenses, it would only reduce the City of Seattle’s jail population by less than three percent. Drug possession and drug dealing are felony offenses and are handled by King County; the cities file very few misdemeanor drug cases.
11. Does this affect juveniles at all?
No. This affects the adult misdemeanor population only. King County continues to house juvenile detainees at its Youth Service Center.
12. Who will pay for the land, building, and operation of a jail? Are all of the cities sharing equally in the cost?
It is too soon to say. At this point, the five principle North/East Cities have formally agreed to jointly develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will evaluate five potential sites. Each of the five cities is contributing to the costs incurred for this work and the size of the contribution is based on an average of city population and jail population. Thus, 68 percent of the costs are being paid by Seattle, 14 percent by Bellevue, and six percent each by Kirkland, Redmond and Shoreline. The current agreement makes no commitments beyond the environmental review of potential sites. Future agreements would be required regarding the location of a new jail, its construction, and its operation. Should the cities continue to pursue a regional solution, it is expected some sort of cost-sharing arrangement will be reached.
13. Isn’t it expensive to run a jail? How are the cities going to pay to operate it? Will the cities need to raise taxes?
The cities already pay to house inmates at the King and Yakima County jails and in local municipal jails. Jail operations would be paid from existing tax revenues.
14. Will the cities continue to use the Yakima jail?
Cities currently contracting with Yakima County for jail beds may continue to do so in the short term, but it is clearly not a long-term solution to the cities’ jail needs since it does not provide a place to take people at the time they are arrested. Police officers need a place within King County to book inmates. It would be very inefficient if a police officer had to drive five hours (to Yakima and back) every time the officer needed to book someone in jail or transport someone to court.
15. I heard that the County Council passed an ordinance about King County continuing to provide jail services. Isn’t that binding?
No, it is not binding. The County Council’s legislation requested that the County Executive begin negotiations with cities to extend jail services contracts for two years, prepare a proposal for the expansion of the Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent that the County Council may then review, and, upon the completion of a contract extension, negotiate with cities for a new long-term jail services agreement. However, the legislation did not include any funding and it does not require the County Executive to continue to provide jail service to cities in either the short term or the long term. The King County Executive and the cities are working together to develop an alternative that would continue a regional jail system with the cities continuing to be part of the county jail system.
16. Could the County operate a jail that the cities build or will one city end up operating a regional municipal jail?
The cities are focused on siting and building a jail to meet their needs. Until a jail is sited, the cities won’t know what makes the most sense for jail operations.
17. I heard that actual jail populations are running below the County’s projections. Are you using old projections or new ones? Does the County’s August, 2008 jail forecast report change the cities’ options?
The cities’ projections for their misdemeanant populations are based on a forecast prepared by Ricci Green and Associates. The cities will continue to review and refine their forecasts. In August 2008, King County issued a new forecast for the felony jail population that it is responsible for. Based on its new forecast, King County is stating that “cities should continue planning under way for new jail facilities as the region will have significant new jail capacity needs in the future” and that “The region's collective detention space needs are significant, and cannot be met within existing county facilities, even with a planned expansion of the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.”
18. I heard the Seattle City Council wants to explore the question of whether Seattle can avoid the need for a new jail if changes are made in how drug laws are enforced. Does the City still need to participate in a jail siting process?
The Seattle City Council has asked for a jail capacity study. It has made no decisions regarding how specific laws are enforced. As part of its review of the 2009-2010 Proposed Budget, the Seattle City Council passed a statement of legislative intent (SLI) regarding an assessment of whether Seattle's use of jail beds can be reduced by adopting a more treatment-focused approach toward the enforcement of certain lower level drug offenses. The SLI directs that a final report, including specific policy recommendations, be presented to the Council's Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee by no later than July 1, 2009.
Siting and Design
19. How big will the jail need to be?
A regional North/East Cities Municipal Jail would need to be 640 beds. By comparison, the King County Jail in downtown Seattle has a capacity of 1,697 inmates. An independent study found that to account for growth, but also considering greater use of alternatives to jail, there will be an average of 554 inmates from the north/east cities by the year 2026. The number of jail beds needed to house these inmates is higher by 15% to allow for peaking factors (e.g., weekends and summer months have higher numbers; weekdays and winter months fewer). In order to allow for this 15 percent peaking factor, the cities would need a jail facility with a capacity of 640 beds.
20. What’s the new jail going to look like?
The cities don’t know yet. The cities can’t begin to design it until a site is selected.
21. Shouldn’t the jail go where the most crime is, so that officers don’t have to travel as far?
The cities will consider a wide variety of factors in siting a jail. Transportation is one of the factors that will be considered in the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Environmental Impact Statement process which begins in 2009. The cities encourage community members to provide input into the SEPA process on this and any other environmental factors so that they will be included in the Environmental Impact Statement.
22. Can the cities use eminent domain to take land?
That is an option; however, the cities prefer not to use eminent domain if at all possible.
23. What is the environmental impact going to be of a big building project like this?
One of the reasons it takes so long to build a new jail, or any other big public works project, is that large projects must undergo many environmental reviews and safeguards, including the official State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. Until that process is final and a site is selected, it is impossible to say what impacts there might be.
24. What kind of lighting will need to be at and near a jail? How will you balance safety with light pollution?
This is an example of the kind of environmental factor that will be considered during the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Environmental Impact Statement process which begins later this year and goes into 2009. The cities encourage community members to provide input into the SEPA process on this and any other environmental factors to be included in the Environmental Impact Statement.
25. We’re concerned about the kind of people that would come into our neighborhood because of a jail. How can you justify putting a jail near a neighborhood?
The cities assume responsibility for keeping our communities safe. When looking for potential sites, the cities considered the impacts on surrounding communities. When most people think of jails, they conjure up images of hardened criminals. That’s not a true picture, though, of the misdemeanor population. For example, the typical misdemeanor inmate is a 36-year-old man who is awaiting trial for a non-violent offense who spends an average of 10 days in jail. The vast majority have no other charges pending against them anywhere.
A U.S. Department of Justice study examined seven different jail sites in four states and found that there weren’t any significant differences in crime rates between neighborhoods with jails and comparable neighborhoods without jails (and in some cases, the crime rates were lower). Regardless of where the municipal jail is ultimately built, the North/East Cities are committed to a well-designed and well-managed facility that will be a good neighbor.
26. What’s going to happen when inmates are released at all hours of the day and night? And if the jail is built in my city, why do we have to have other cities’ inmates released into our city?
Current practice is to release people who have completed their sentences at 8 a.m., though the law requires inmates who post bail must be released within four hours after posting bail. The cities are looking at ways to safeguard the area around a jail, including potential transportation for released inmates, as well as other ways to ensure public safety.
27. What exactly will happen at the jail site? Will there be court rooms? Offices for attorneys? Video arraignment?
The cities will design the jail after they choose a site. It’s too early to say exactly what will be there, although it will be able to house 640 inmates and provide meeting rooms for attorneys and the inmates they represent. Building a new jail gives the cities an opportunity to combine services in one building and create efficiencies that can save time for police officers and make services more accessible for inmates and their families. There will be opportunities for community input during the entire process.
28. You say this is a jail just for misdemeanor offenders, but what about people who are charged with a felony and then plea-bargain down to a misdemeanor? Won’t they end up in your jail?
No. Anyone charged with a felony, even if they plead down, must serve his or her time in a county jail or state prison. Only those cases processed by a municipal court will serve time in a misdemeanor facility. Municipal courts hear only misdemeanor cases. If someone is charged with a crime that is a felony, his or her case must be heard in a state or county court and any time subsequently served must be in a facility designated for felons. This will only be a misdemeanor jail.
29. If the cities build a jail, does that mean that bond offices and other ancillary services will also spring up nearby?
The North/East Cities checked with the cities of Issaquah and Renton, which both run 50-bed jails, and learned neither has a bond office – inmates use the bond offices that are already located in downtown Seattle and Kent, the sites of King County’s jails. If an inmate wants to post bail, she or he calls the bond office, and an agent can come to the jail to meet with the inmate. For example, only 10 percent of Seattle’s misdemeanor inmates are released because they use a bond company to post a bond on their behalf.
30. What about escapes? How are the cities going to protect the neighborhood from escapees?
Escapes from jail are extremely rare. No one serves more than a year and the average misdemeanor inmate is in jail for only a few days. In fact, there have been no escapes from either of the King County jail facilities in the last 10 years.
31. How are the cities going to deal with the dramatic increase in long car trips to and from a regional jail? It seems like it’s bad for the environment, takes officers off the streets, and poses a safety risk to the community where the jail is located.
Cities already transport inmates to a regional jail. Depending on where the jail is located, some cities could end up driving less than they do now. The cities will explore transportation issues as they draft an Environmental Impact Statement that is part of the formal State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process. Public meetings focused specifically on SEPA issues, such as transportation, will be held in January 2009. Specific traffic issues will be resolved once a site is selected and as the facility is designed and its operational plan developed.
32. Are there any examples of jails having positive impacts – e.g., creating more jobs? What kind of mitigation could the cities provide?
Jails can have a positive economic impact – corrections officer positions pay well and have good benefits. The jobs associated with construction can also have a positive impact on the economy. It is too soon to start identifying exactly what mitigation the cities might provide – much of that will be specific to the site and the community that is chosen. For example, when King County located the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent, the County agreed not to provide any on-site food services for staff and jurors – so that local restaurants and stores would benefit.
The MRJC is an example of how a jail can be a good neighbor. The Kent Commons (a recreation center) is directly adjacent to the RJC. An ice hockey arena has been built across the street on land previously housing ball fields. Kent Station (a mix of movie theaters, retail stores, etc.) is also across the street from the MRJC. The North/East Cities are committed to the municipal jail being a good neighbor wherever it is located.