Prisoner agreement expected to save B.G. cash

City will now send some to Skamania County Jail

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Starting this week, Battle Ground will have the option to ship its short-term prisoners to Skamania County as part of a pact expected to save the city thousands of dollars in housing and transportation costs, officials said.

Previously, prisoners from Battle Ground, Ridgefield and La Center — all of which fall under the Battle Ground municipal court’s jurisdiction — have been housed at Clark County Jail or Wapato City Jail, depending on sentence length.

Now, Battle Ground can use all three facilities.

“It’s going to give us more flexibility to reduce costs,” Battle Ground City Clerk Claire Lider said. On Monday, a Battle Ground prisoner was transferred to the Skamania County Jail for the first time, she noted.

The agreement should be mutually beneficial, officials said, noting it is not without precedent. Skamania County began housing some of Camas and Washougal’s prisoners in 2003.

For Battle Ground, using Skamania County instead of Clark County will likely result in a daily savings of about $26.12 per prisoner. The number of prisoners moved to Skamania is not expected to exceed single digits, officials said.

Battle Ground will continue to rely on the Yakima County city of Wapato to house its long-term prisoners. However, Skamania County will now be a short-term option when inclement weather makes transporting prisoners to Wapato difficult or when a prisoner who lives near Battle Ground has to report to jail to serve a brief sentence.

For Skamania County, the partnership provides more money to pay for its jail.

“We’re looking for ways to generate revenue,” Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown said. “At the same time, it offers them a way to house inmates close to home.”

The Skamania County jail opened in 2001 and has a 50-prisoner capacity. It houses an average of 26 prisoners per day. Battle Ground could ship up to eight additional prisoners per day, Brown said.

Due to the jail’s “pod” structure, Skamania County will not have to hire new guards to handle the inmate increase, Brown noted.

A single guard monitors video screens of the jail’s nine housing pods. Other guards are on hand to assist in security matters, transportation issues and other activities necessary to run the jail.

Skamania County can expect to earn around $70,000 per year from the influx of prisoners, Brown estimated. That money will be used toward paying off the jail’s $1.1 million costs per year.

“You can’t turn away an opportunity to offset costs when you have the opportunity to do so,” he said.

It is unclear how the loss of inmates will impact Clark County’s jail. Clark County officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Skamania charges $65 per day to house prisoners. That’s lower than Clark County ($76.12) and higher than Wapato ($50).

Skamania will charge $50 per prisoner when it has more than five prisoners, Lider said. Wapato already offers a similar sliding scale.

For Skamania County, the partnership will also provide more work crew inmates to participate on cleanup projects with the U.S. Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers, Brown said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517, or ray.legendre//www.twitter.com/col_smallcities