City jail may send inmates to Yakima

Oak Harbor jail inmates may get free trips to Yakima someday.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker has been working for months to find a solution to the city’s jail problem. He originally hoped to shut down the cramped, aging facility, but now he’s proposing keeping it open for short-term inmates and contracting with the Yakima jail to hold the rest.

“We’re down to the end,” he told the city council Wednesday. “It’s not quite where we thought we would end up, but here we are.”

Originally, Dresker proposed contracting with the Island County jail to house inmates. Under the law, the city is responsible for incarcerating people who commit misdemeanor offenses within city limits.

Negotiations with the county, however, didn’t work out. Jose Briones, chief of the county jail, said it came down to capacity.

The county jail just doesn’t have room for the extra inmates from the city.

Under the proposal, the county would have shipped off long-term inmates to the Yakima jail if there wasn’t enough beds available for city inmates. Yakima contracts with jurisdictions across the state to house inmates; vans travel across the state to Yakima on a daily basis.

Briones said county officials, however, worried about the safety of inmates at the large Yakima jail, which has had two in-custody, inmate-on-inmate murders over the last year. Also, the county’s legal department was concerned about the language regarding liability in Yakima’s proposed contract.

Dresker, however, said he doesn’t have concerns about sending inmates to Yakima. Unlike the city jail, Yakima has in-house medical and mental health professionals, as well as video visitation, he pointed out.

In addition, the city and county couldn’t come to an agreement about holding people on misdemeanor warrants, Briones said. The county has restrictions on booking those people into the jail because of capacity concerns, but the city wants them held, which will happen under Dresker’s new plan.

Under the plan, two of the city’s seven corrections officers would be converted to police officers, and the animal control officer would be a back-up corrections officer. People who will be in jail for just a day — or possibly up to four — would stay in Oak Harbor while those facing a longer stay would go to Yakima.

It’s not a long-term solution.

“At some point in time we’ll need to do something different,” he said.

Dresker said he plans to bring the proposal to the May 7 council meeting.

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