Commit a crime, do the time — in Forks

The Forks jail has 40 beds, which are occupied by inmates from western Washington cities, Tribes and other jurisdictions.  -  Christi Baron /Forks Forum
The Forks jail has 40 beds, which are occupied by inmates from western Washington cities, Tribes and other jurisdictions.
— image credit: Christi Baron /Forks Forum

POULSBO — Poulsbo city officials are proud of their ability to pinch pennies in a recovering economy and tightening tax revenues.

One method of saving money has been found in an unlikely place: jail. The City of Forks jail, in particular.

“[Poulsbo has] a contract with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office for their jail and with the City of Forks for their jail,” Poulsbo Police Chief Alan Townsend said.

Poulsbo has diverted some of its inmates to the Forks jail, a move that saves the city money. “Forks costs about half,” Townsend said. “It’s around $50 a day rather than $80.”

To be exact, the Kitsap County Jail charges $83.53 per day per inmate, whereas the Forks jail charges $45 per day, per prisoner.

Poulsbo began 2013 with a jail budget — known as a “care and custody of prisoners” — of $120,480. But the City Council amended the budget as costs went up, raising the number to $150,480.

By the end of 2013, Poulsbo racked up $158,930 in jail bills, overshooting even its amended number.

The city is currently budgeted for $150,480 for $2014.

Poulsbo is among a handful of western Washington cities to turn to Forks for cheaper jail beds in order to cut down on costs to house offenders and, ultimately, saving taxpayer dollars. In turn, the small city on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula has welcomed the additional prisoners and revenue.

Forks, a community of roughly 3,600 people, has a 40-bed jail attended by six custodial officers.

“We’ve been looking for contracts with people for about 10 years,” Forks Police Chief Rick Bart said. “A lot of smaller jurisdictions with jails do this, because they can charge smaller amounts of money.

“This is nothing new. It’s a matter of economics.”

Forks contracts with a variety of Washington cities, Tribes and others for use of its jail, including: Aberdeen, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Cosmopolis, Elma, Hoquiam, Lower Elwha Tribe, La Push, Makah Nation, McCleary, Montesano, Ocean Shores, Orting, Port Angeles, Port Orchard, Port Townsend, Poulsbo, Quileute Tribe, Ruston, Sequim, Shelton, Westport, and the state’s Department of Corrections.

“(The Department of Corrections) are one of our biggest customers. Bremerton is our biggest,” Bart said. “Bremerton’s bill in January was over $11,000.”

In contrast, Poulsbo’s January bill from the Forks jail was around $2,000.

The Forks jail isn’t for everyone, however. It serves a niche market — generally prisoners that have already gone through the court system, are not expecting any more hearings, and will remain at the jail to serve their time.

“These are all short stays,” Bart said, noting that prisoners are misdemeanor offenders. “DUIs, domestic violence, misdemeanor assault,” Bart listed off. “There are some misdemeanor drugs stuff. No felonies.”

As part of the package, an officer from Forks may even drive part way to pick up an inmate. It’s not uncommon for a Poulsbo police officer to meet a Forks counterpart at the Hood Canal Bridge to exchange a prisoner.

“It depends on our staffing,” Bart said. “We’ll even drive all the way down Poulsbo and pick them up if we have to. Most of the time we pick them up halfway.”

Forks is among one money-saving tactic Poulsbo has explored.

“(The judge) has the alternative to send them to Forks,” Townsend said. “And also electronic home monitoring, which is another way to save money and our police department monitors that.”

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