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.