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Snohomish County Corrections work crews on hold

Snohomish County Corrections' Work Crew Program is on hold, but the County Executive's Office was quick to point out that it has nothing to do with the hiring freeze enacted by the County Council or Executive.

Deanna Dawson, executive director of the Executive's Office, explained that the program's problems are related to the number of inmates sentenced to work crews.

"County code requires a judge to order inmates into the program, but we're not getting the numbers of referrals that we need to make it work," Dawson said. "We've been meeting to figure out what to do, because the courts want to sentence people to the program, but it's not coming together."

Dawson cited the strict standards of the program, which disqualify felons, those convicted of domestic violence or those who are considered a flight risk.

"Our screening process is stringent," Dawson said. "It's kind of struggling in limbo right now. We don't want to eliminate it, because it's better for inmates to be on work crews than to sit in their jail cells watching TV."

Dawson elaborated that many such work crews are used not only by cities, but also by area Native American tribes, often on a seasonal basis. In particular, the Stillaguamish Tribe has used work crews to maintain previously started projects, or to prepare plants for winter months. This past spring and summer, the Tribe had three crew members build a fence at Eagle Creek May 2, four crew members perform maintenance at Pilchuck Creek June 16-17, and six crew members return to Pilchuck Creek to perform site preps July 10-11.

Shawn Yanity, chair of the Stillaguamish Tribe, acknowledged the impact that the lack of work crews is having on their projects, and praised the inmates who have taken part in the program.

"They work really hard and take a strong sense of ownership in the projects," Yanity said.

City of Arlington Natural Resources Director Bill Blake likewise mentioned the work crew program at a recent budget meeting.

"The prisoners learn important skills while providing valuable services to the community," Blake said.

Dawson noted that the summer months made it difficult to resolve the issue, since most of the agencies involved operate on very different schedules during those months, but now that we've moved into the fall, she expects they will "move quickly" toward a resolution. She declined to name a specific timetable.

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