CLARK COUNTY, Wash. — Last week, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) announced it will close Larch Corrections Center in Clark County in the fall due to a decline in prison population.
A group of more than 100 people met on Thursday to discuss the importance of Larch Corrections Center and how they can advocate for its continued operation. Several people told KGW they were shocked and blindsided to hear that the prison was slated to close this year.
"Right now, we have to fight ... to keep this facility open because, as you can see, it has a domino effect on our community and what we do," said one speaker.
Located in Yacolt, Larch Corrections Center is a minimum-security facility with 240 beds. The DOC said the 115 staff members there will be offered jobs at other facilities.
DOC officials also stated, "The decision to close LCC is in no way a reflection of the facility’s leadership or its employees. They have been invaluable DOC employees."
However, the bulk of the meeting wasn't so much focused on the workers as it was the incarcerated population. Speakers highlighted the contributions from the inmates when it comes to helping fight wildfires, participating in work programs and crews around town, and in working towards a degree in a one-of-a-kind educational environment.
"We have [the inmates] currently down in the Tunnel 5 fire. The Tunnel 5 fire is a huge fire and a challenging fire, and we have right now over 40 inmates down there fighting these fires," explained Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands for Washington state, the agency that over sees the Department of Natural Resources.
Franz said 10% of their firefighting crews come from Larch.
"As we are seeing this fire season and future fire seasons ... grow more and more catastrophic fires, these individuals are absolutely essential in protecting our community," she said.
Hannah Valenti is the interim education director at Larch.
"Education reduces recidivism by 90%. That is not a joke. That sounds like an insane statistic that you could never say for anything else," Valenti said. "The staff at Larch are supportive of that effort. That is not the attitude you get everywhere in this world when it comes to corrections education."
Some also read notes from men currently incarcerated, who said the opportunities provided at the prison are unique and meaningful, and will help them down a productive path post-release.
"It gives me hope to see so much positive response from the community," said Unit Sergeant Laura Finn. "We're a strong community and we do all have each others back."
The group plans to hold additional meetings, and will work in the coming weeks to contact legislators and local leaders to reverse the decision.
Find out more by visiting the Keep Larch Corrections Center Open Facebook page.