Taxpayer funds wasting away on McNeil Island

OFM McNeil Open House is today, but a Patch blogger asks whether it will cause changes? McNeil has millions of taxpayer dollars invested in its recently renovated facilities, she writes.

McNeil Island’s future will be discussed again today but to what end? Has the State already decided what it will do and are the OFM Open Houses just public appeasement? It sure seems like it, as the 2009 study recommended non-closure, but it happened! 

In 1955 McNeil’s Dining Hall mural was painted by an inmate for .10 cents an hour. In 2005 the State paid a professional artist $63,000.00 for a SCC mural, while another $109,000 bought an island shaped cement planter that state law said, as the .5% of the $346,000,000.00 SCC construction cost, was required to be spent on public art. 

Government waste – seems like some things never change – McNeil was completely renovated for it’s 2010 A+ National ranking by the American Correctional Association. Prisons don’t get an A+ rating for being decrepit and with a new 2009 Ferry Slip for $2.3 million, McNeil is hardly that! 

Since the MICC 2011 closure, renovations have amounted to $19,000,000.00, but all the infrastructure out there is being wasted. Why should a new sewer system, fiber optics and freshly paved roads go unused?! Taxpayers shell out $158,299 a head for sex offenders to live on an island they can’t visit! The state needs to increase head count to lower costs via volume; facilities run whether for 300 or 1300…

Maybe the State thinks taxpayers don’t mind McNeil wasting away to the tune of $47,779,000 in 2012. Yes, the yearly SCC budget is nearly $48,000,000.00. While McNeil’s newly renovated facilities rot, the DOC is planning on building a $180 million dollar prison along the West I-5 corridor, despite the 2009 OFM study showing it is not cheaper to build new. McNeil is fully updated and Prison Sustainability can be used in full force on the Eden like island, thereby lowering costs with the use of inmate labor, food sustainability and possible workfare/rehab training programs. FWL and DSHS staff could use the housing, even as offices, to keep an eye on things while improving employee commutes and morale. Overall it is very apparent that a cost-effective use of current facilities is much preferable to throwing money away and going out on a limb to build more. The 1200 bed prison shortage only happened because McNeil’s 1200 beds vanished; despite recommendations to the contrary… go figure! Of course the Government doesn't go back and correct errors, so a new use must be found. 

Since Ezra Meeker settled on McNeil in 1853 many developments have occurred such as the beautiful landing at Still Harbor. Many sites of the Settler era are still there, like Julin House, true pieces of living history with a great story to tell and which could be real money makers for the State; while keeping the island of limited inhabitation and protecting its flora and fauna.

Hopefully out of these Open Houses a positive environmentally friendly use of McNeil will emerge; one that utilizes the very expensive existing facilities and keeps the gorgeous island and its wildlife protected and pristine. Perhaps at some future point if the infrastructure is saved now, we can have a Living History Center State Park, and take nature shuttles around the Coastal road and tour the historic Cell houses, homes and brothels – most of which were made with inmate labor. It’d be great to visit the stage where Charles Manson played the guitar, and his music teacher, Creepy Al Karpis, drove the island kids’ school bus. McNeil has Alcatraz beat by a mile with its beauty and history, so our state needs to use it and give a return to the taxpayer dollars vested there. McNeil served Washington before it was even a state and it still should.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ann Burkly August 29, 2012 at 02:31 PM
It's great that people care and are trying to understand - that is very difficult as the entire process is not very logical. We can only hope that with public awareness of the facilities they've invested in, there can be collaborative public and multi-agency engagement on finding the best and most economical uses for McNeil.
Clifford Lund August 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The sad part of it is that the SCC program is still there and that is what costs so much to operate. They spend more on each sex offender each year than any of us earns per year. I personally saw this when I worked in the correction center. Most people don't even know they have a separate facility that costs millions to build and sucks down so much money that it is disgraceful.
Ann Burkly August 29, 2012 at 06:43 PM
You're right Clifford, it would be great if they could be removed but no one wants them and the island lease does require a prison on it, of some type, although the lease can be amended - as it has been a couple times now. A multi-state offender prison would be a good use of the main prison and that could bring in big bucks for the state. Of course with the amendable lease, if the Feds agree, McNeil could be offices and a rehab facility/ mentally fragile transitional ward... There really are a lot of doable options that would not waste the facilities and all the taxpayer money invested in them, and that also could help the state by raising up the less fortunate; which ultimately helps everyone carry less of a load. Thanks for commenting.
Richard Michael Lindsey October 14, 2013 at 09:17 PM
Ann Burkly October 14, 2013 at 09:28 PM
Yes. Documented by a UW PhD. who is a leading authority on Brothels, especially in the West.. According to her, McNeil holds one of the last original, unaltered brothels in America.


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