The Washington Department of Corrections announced Monday it plans to close Larch Corrections Center this fall, citing declining incarceration trends.
The minimum-security prison near Yacolt, which opened in 1956, can house up to 240 men. In April, the most recent data available, Larch’s average daily population was 227. The average daily population has hovered around 230 since the beginning of the year, according to the department’s data.
Corrections says Larch is being “warm closed,” meaning it could reopen in the future if the need arises. The decision to close Larch was made earlier this month, Chris Wright, communications director, said in an email.
The agency plans to close the facility in October, according to a Monday email sent to Larch employees and shared with The Columbian. Wright said officials chose that time frame to provide everyone with enough time to move incarcerated individuals to other facilities and help its 115 staff members find other jobs. It also allows inmate crews to assist the Department of Natural Resources with fire season.
Larch will be the first prison to be shuttered since the state closed McNeil Island Corrections Center in 2011, according to Corrections. Several units at Monroe Correctional Center closed in 2021, and the department previously warm closed Larch’s Elkhorn unit, halving the facility’s capacity.
“While this may sound like bad news, this is exactly what we have all been working towards. Your dedication to positively changing lives and creating better neighbors means that fewer incarcerated individuals are reoffending and returning to our custody, and that trend is expected to accelerate over the next decade,” DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange wrote in the email to Larch employees.
Larch staff members will be offered jobs at other state correctional facilities, according to the agency’s news release.
“I realize that the location of LCC makes it difficult for you to commute to another prison, and as a result, we will be reaching out to the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, Oregon’s Department of Corrections and other agencies to help those of you who are not interested or able to relocate,” Strange wrote.
Incarcerated individuals housed at Larch and who will not be released before the closure will move to “the facility that best suits their health, programming, education and overall needs,” Wright said.
The planned closure comes as the state’s prison population has declined in recent years — a trend that Corrections says is expected to accelerate over the next decade. Currently, 70 percent of available beds are occupied across the agency’s 12 prisons, the department said. Washington has one of the lowest rates of incarceration in the country, Strange said, citing data from nonprofit The Sentencing Project.
Corrections also pointed to a new law, known as the Blake fix, that followed a 2021 state Supreme Court ruling striking down Washington’s felony drug possession law. The revised law makes drug possession a gross misdemeanor, which “will not translate to an additional need for beds,” according to the news release.
Separately from the closure announcement, Corrections said it’s also aiming to reduce the use of solitary confinement by 90 percent over the next five years. That plan will be released later this year.