Proposed reopening of Ridge riles up community

ARLINGTON The surrounding community has reacted strongly to a proposal to reopen a minimum-security facility, formerly known as Indian Ridge, to house low-risk inmates, even as Snohomish County and the state of Washington are still working out the details.
Snohomish County Department of Corrections Director Steve Thompson said that the Ridge, as its now known, will not reopen unless the county is able to secure the full compliment of staff necessary to operate the facility safely. He declined to disclose the details of the proposal still being negotiated by the state and the county, but he summarized their plans. According to Thompson, the state would take the lead in securing qualified staff for the Ridge, while the county jail in Everett would provide the state with beds for community custody.
Although Thompson asserted that such a partnership would make good business sense, he elaborated that security would not be sacrificed for the sake of economics.##M:more##
Obviously, we cant go into too many details about our protocols, but our security measures have been beefed up, Thompson said. Everyone gets booked in Everett and screened arduously before they can come to the Ridge. The average stay were looking at for these inmates would be 17 days. None of them will have pending trials, so we wont have any extra costs for transporting them. These inmates will be the easiest to manage, because theyll want to be sent here, rather than downtown, so theyll have an incentive to behave well.
Jim Harms, the countys community corrections commander and project manager for the Ridge, denied rumors that sex offenders might be housed at the Ridge, pointing out that such inmates have never been part of the facilitys population. He recited a list of criteria that would exclude inmates from being placed at the Ridge, among them any escape attempts in the past five years, any rule violations in the past 30 days, any felony holds, any history of violent felonies in the past 10 years, and any history of sex offenses or homicides.
Arlington Police Chief John Gray echoed Thompsons assessment that the Ridge has had few escape attempts in its history, and deemed the facility a minimal cause for concern to the city of Arlington.
If someone does escape, theyre not going to want to hang around here, Gray said. Theyre going to want to cover a lot of ground quick and get to someplace like Seattle or Tacoma. The big things that are going to determine if this facility is a success or not is its levels of leadership and management, and whether it has adequate staffing.
Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart expressed doubts about whether the Ridge could secure such staffing, since he admitted that his own office cant hire recruits fast enough to fill all its posts.
Its a time-consuming process, said Bart, who was also blunt in his disapproval of Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon for submitting such a proposal, while declining requests from the sheriffs office for other resources. If people think theyre getting more sheriffs deputies out there, just because the Ridge is reopening, that is a fallacy. Im not seeing us getting any more funding for additional patrols. Reardon talks the talk, but he doesnt walk the walk. If you want to save money, thats great, but youve got to do whats right.
Laura Hofmann, of the Arlington Heights Improvement Club, is already upset at what she sees as inadequate law enforcement coverage of her neighborhood, and also criticized both Reardon and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire for agreeing to such a proposal without consulting area residents.
Aaron Reardon has been here once, and that was when he was trying to get elected, Hofmann said. Weve never seen Gov. Gregoire up here. I dont even think she knows where Indian Ridge is. Members of the sheriffs office told us, at our last meeting with them, that our best defense from crime was to watch out for each other. I understand their funding issues, but if theyre not capable of a presence in the Heights, then the county shouldnt be housing inmates out here.
The Arlington Heights Improvement Club has scheduled a town meeting March 20 at 7 p.m., at 12221 Arlington Heights Rd. Thompson, Harms, Snohomish County Department of Corrections Deputy Director Susan Clawson and Snohomish County Councilman John Koster have all promised to attend.

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