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Inside Olympia — WA Corrections Secretary Cheryl Strange

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This week a full-hour, in-depth interview with the Washington State Department of Corrections Secretary Cheryl Strange.

The Department of Corrections recently announced it would close the Larch Corrections Center near Vancouver, drawing blowback from local officials, labor representatives and State Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz — who noted the state uses inmates from the minimum-security facility to help the state fight wildfires.

Strange said the shutdown is a done deal, the facility will close in October; the department is working with labor reps on the shutdown; and Corrections will maintain its current level of 350 firefighting residents, moving them from Larch to Cedar Creek Corrections Center near Olympia.

A key current priority for the department is finding a way to end solitary confinement. It’s not just flipping a switch, it will take years to accomplish this, says Strange, as Corrections needs the support of the Legislature and labor to make it happen. She emphasized that to end solitary, prisons need more staff and more space/activities available for those removed from solitary.

Strange is endeavoring to remake Washington prisons to reflect some of the character of prisons in Norway, with less emphasis on punitive and “command control” measures, and more focus on rehabilitation and prepping inmates for the time when they will leave prison and rejoin society.

Other topics: the declining prison population in Washington, the impacts of the “Blake” Supreme Court decision on drug sentencing, minimum vs medium-security beds, possible consolidation of women’s prisons, and more. Join host Austin Jenkins and guest Cheryl Strange on a deep dive into prison policy in Washington, this week on Inside Olympia.