City plan to close jail hits obstacle

Oak Harbor officials’ plans to close the city jail and enter into a contract with Island County for jail services has hit a snag.

But there still might be a solution.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker presented the city council with a proposal last year to close down the city’s aging jail and instead send inmates to the county’s more spacious and modern facility.

The deal would save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said, and generate some revenue for the county.

The problem, however, is that the deal hinged on the county’s ability to contract with the Yakima Jail to take inmates in the case of an overflow.

That didn’t work out because of an impasse in negotiations with Yakima over a liability issue.

Also, Island County commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson nor new Sheriff Rick Felici are keen on the idea of sending inmates to the large jail in Yakima.

“I’m not sure we wanted to send our criminals to that environment and then have them come home,” Johnson said, noting the larger jail houses people involved in gangs and violent crimes.

Dresker, however, found another jail that might work. He said it’s about a hundred miles away and is smaller; the inmates sent there are those who received longer sentences.

Dresker said there’s nothing forcing the city to close the jail immediately. He was looking at the long-term prospects of the city jail and the feasibility of running the small facility as it continues to age and regulations get more strict.

But three of the city’s corrections deputies are moving on to different positions because of impending plans to close the jail.

The department will have to hire replacements, Dresker said, if a deal can’t be reached with the county soon.

“I definitely want to help if we can,” Felici said.

If an agreement isn’t reached, Dresker said an option in the future might be to contract with Skagit County, which has a relatively new jail. He said Skagit officials aren’t interested in contracting now because they are still working to stabilize the operation, but things may change someday.

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