YACOLT, Wash. — The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) said it will close Larch Corrections Center in Clark County in the fall because of a decline in prison population.
Located in Yacolt, Washington, Larch Corrections Center is a minimum-security facility with 240 beds. The DOC said the 115 staff members at Larch will be offered jobs at other facilities.
According to the DOC, prison populations have declined in Washington in recent years, a trend the agency said it anticipates will accelerate over the next 10 years. Only 70% of beds are occupied in the DOC's 12 prisons across the state of Washington.
"We already have one of the lowest rates of incarceration in the nation," said Cheryl Strange, Secretary of the Department of Corrections. "DOC has worked diligently to lower recidivism rates, create better neighbors and ensure that incarcerated individuals don’t return to us once they get out. Of course, our continued success means we can no longer afford to operate all of the prisons we currently have."
In a news release from the DOC, the agency said the Washington Supreme Court's ruling in 2021 that single possession of a controlled substance is no longer a felony and the subsequent revision of the law by the Washington legislature that makes drug possession a gross misdemeanor will not result in a need for more space in the state's prisons.
"All incarcerated individuals in DOC custody have been convicted of felonies, so this change in the law will not translate to an additional need for beds," the DOC said in the news release.
Washington state has not shuttered a prison since 2011, when it closed the McNeil Island Corrections Center, the DOC said.
The Larch Corrections Facility is being "warm closed," which means it could reopen in the future if necessary, according to the DOC.
"As before, when units were initially warm closed in 2021, we will continue to evaluate trends and the direct impacts to the department’s capacity and needs as we continue to make decisions as a result of declining admissions to prisons," the DOC said in a news release.
Washington DOC to reduce use of solitary confinement
The Department of Corrections also reported that the agency is developing a comprehensive plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement that will be released later this year. The DOC said the plan won't compromise staff safety.
"The research is clear on solitary confinement," Strange said. "It causes long-lasting harm. While it can be an effective way to deter violence, spending prolonged periods of time in isolation has devastating effects on an individual’s mental and physical health long after they leave our facilities."