County Council to consider ordinance to prevent county use of private prisons

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove introduced legislation Monday that would prohibit the County from entering in any contracts with private prison companies to house adult or juvenile detainees. Private facilities have dubious records when it comes to safety. A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that contract prisons had a higher rate of safety and security incidents, including a higher rate of assaults on both staff and inmates.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice committed to limit the practice of contracting with non-governmental organizations, though it is unclear whether President-Elect Trump will honor that commitment. He has previously expressed support for the use of private detention centers.

“With the uncertainty at the national level, this is an opportunity to ensure that private prisons are never used by King County,” said Councilmember Upthegrove. “Private facilities have consistently demonstrated that the push for profit creates unsafe conditions that put both staff and inmates at risk.” 

King County does not currently contract with non-governmental detention facilities, but there is nothing in existing policy that would prevent it in the future. This ordinance ensures that the current practice of incarcerating inmates at county facilities continues. Other jurisdictions, including the State of Washington and the federal government, contract with private prison companies as a way to alleviate overcrowding.

In 2000, the County Council recognized that increases in criminal justice expenditures were outpacing the county’s ability to pay for these increases. Over the last several years, leaders in the King County criminal justice system have engaged in an intensive effort to reduce the use of secure detention through offering alternatives to incarceration where appropriate and programs that lower the likelihood an inmate will re-offend. As a result of these actions, King County is able to meet the current and projected detention needs.



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