It appears to be the end of the road —or rather a ferry route — for a prison older than Washington state itself.
Indeed, our very own Alcatraz.
McNeil Island Corrections Center, home to about 500 inmates and a place where 245 DOC employees work, is closing after 135 years of protecting the public and punishing and rehabilitating felons.
It’s uncertain what this will mean for the Special Commitment Center, also housed on the island for sexually violent predators and run by the state’s Department of Social and Health Services. But DOC stands to save about $6.3 million a year, according to a press release.
“This will save the most money without compromising the safety of our staff, the offenders and the public,” DOC Secretary Eldon Vail said in the release. “The budget crisis is causing us to make some of the most painful decisions in our agency’s history.”
Here’s what I wrote about McNeil in an entry last year:
The territorial prison there got its first prisoners — two men who’d sold booze to Native Americans and one who’d robbed a fort store — in 1875, according to HistoryLink. When I visited the place last spring, the man who provided escort for me on the ferry ride told me an interesting fact. It wasn’t built for Alcatraz-like security reasons (i.e. its icy cold water surroundings) but rather because that’s just the way everyone commuted back then.
This prison’s older than the state itself, also giving it the unique distinction of being the only prison that started as a territorial facility, which then became a federal pen in 1890, and then a state prison in 1981. It was supposed to be temporary to run it to allieve overcrowding, but now almost 28 years later, it’s still going.
It’s expensive, as you might imagine, to haul inmates — and all the things that go to incarcerate them — on a ferry. That’s the likely reason for its possible closure.
If they do close it, perhaps the state could open it up to tourists — just like Alcatraz — and house a museum there.