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Lack of prisoners forces county to cut 33 jobs at jail

YAKIMA - An approximate $6 million loss in revenue is forcing Yakima County to eliminate 33 jobs at the Yakima County Jail.

The cuts will affect 29 correctional officers and four clerical positions, according to Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita.

The revenue loss comes from the King County Consortium of about 30 cities that contract with Yakima County Corrections to house 270 prisoners. Leita said Yakima County commissioners anticipated the number of prisoners to drop in 2011, but believed operations would be unchanged.

Commissioners were led to believe the number of prisoners from the King County Consortium would drop to 170, but early this week found out that number would drop to 70.

"We didn't anticipate that extra 100 prisoners," Leita said. "Because of this, we can't afford to have staff employed if they won't be fully utilized."

Leita said several counties in Washington have been building jails, which lessened the need for other counties to contract with Yakima County. Also, due to budget deficits, Leita said Washington counties are coming up with alternative means of punishment to avoid spending money on housing inmates.

"The jail population is going down and the supply of beds is going up," Leita explained.

Yakima County charged the King County Consortium approximately $30,000 a year to house one prisoner. This revenue helped offset the cost of housing local prisoners, which costs Yakima County approximately $22,000 a year for one prisoner. The loss of revenue could affect how Yakima County handles local prisoners in the future.

It costs the county $32 million a year to run the jail. With the loss of $6 million, county officials will be looking for ways to make that up. Leita said this could be done with finding other contracts or by changing the correctional facility.

"This caught us off guard," Leita admitted. "They (King County) had intimated to us the reduction wouldn't be as severe."

Leita said because of union contracts, the employees being laid off must be given 30 days notice. Those notices have been given and Leita said they could start taking effect by the end of January.

Until then, the county is looking for ways to get new contracts.

"If something were to happen between now and then we might be able to downsize the lay-offs, or maybe even avoid them," Leita added.

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