By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

The Lynnwood Civic Center is expanding after multiple space need studies determined that expansion is necessary to adequately support the police department, municipal court and the jail inside of the facility.

City officials have decided to renovate the existing building as well as expand east to the adjacent vacant, city-owned wooded area. The current jail has 46 beds, with no room for programming to provide inmates with services. The new community justice center would have the capacity to house 96 inmates.

The plans for expansion include desired access to programming and will be oriented toward improving outcomes for offenders by addressing factors that are often linked to criminal behavior. This will be achieved through including access to treatment and services within the community justice center itself.

Lynnwood Police Department Deputy Chief Jim Nelson started the project to reduce recidivism among Lynnwood offenders at the misdemeanor level.

“I think the police department has had a really hard time identifying what we are doing to help our inmates get better. We’d see people with no criminal background enter our system, and then, all of a sudden, frequent interaction with them begins,” said Nelson. “We’re now trying to help them get out of the system when they first enter.”

The Community Justice Center intends to collaborate with a neighboring healthcare organization assisting individuals in the criminal justice system. This will create opportunities to address inmates’ substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses.

A 2018 survey of Lynnwood inmates found that 77 percent had an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The survey reported that, if given the opportunity, 77 percent would enter treatment.

Nelson says that the Police Department used the Sequential Intercept Model as a framework to identify means of support for the people with mental and substance use disorders in their criminal justice system.  He says that they found that Lynnwood’s healthcare systems and criminal justice systems touch each other, but inefficiencies lay in a lack of communication and direct partnership.

“In my experience, the medical systems, the mental health systems and the criminal justice systems all work very differently but we’re treating the same people,” stated Nelson. “We’re just not communicating with each other.”

The partnership with the neighboring Community Health Center of Snohomish County (CHCSC), will help inmates meet substance abuse or mental health assessment court mandates, as well as provide health evaluations. Nelson believes that the partnership of services will allow for a seamless transition out of incarceration.

“People will have a higher chance of success,” explained Nelson. “We’ll be able to do what we intend to do…rehabilitate and get people out of the criminal justice system where we first see them.”

The Community Justice Center’s expansion to the east vacant lot will directly connect the police station and the CHCSC, through a shared parking lot between the buildings.

Through the renovation, the courtroom will expand into the existing police department allowing them to increase services the current infrastructure limits. The police department and jail will remain directly attached to the court. A public entry allowing for public screening and a private assessment area will be additionally added. Nelson says designs also include a much-needed medical office, as the current nurse’s office operates out of a converted closet.

Direct construction costs are estimated at $48 million, with an additional $16 million to be spent on finishing touches and mandatory inspections. The current timeline for completion is 2022 with occupancy in 2023.

The City of Lynnwood has the debt capacity to finance $60 million of the $64 million project.  City Council made a motion during the March 23 business meeting to repay the debt through budget expenditure reduction, contracted bed revenues, and existing criminal justice sales tax. The Police Department will fund the additional four million through existing sales tax money they’ve been budgeting for this project.

The expansion of the jail will be cost-effective for the police department according to Nelson, as the current civic center’s limited capacity and resources are costing them money. A larger jail would allow the police department to receive funding through housing inmates from other jails, instead of having to continue to allocate funds to house their current inmates elsewhere. Nelson says that they can take the money spent contracting inmate placement at other jails and apply it towards debt repayment.

“We believe we can fully fund the debt repayment,” explained Nelson. “It’s just reallocating the funding opportunities we already have. Revenue generation through the bed revenue, reallocation of existing budgets, and taking existing tax money but directing it directly towards this project.”

The Lynnwood Community Justice Center will be built where the Civic Center is located at 19100 44th Ave W, Lynnwood, WA 98036.

Erin Freeman

I graduated from Washington State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a specialization in rhetoric and professional writing. I also received a minor in political science. I joined the Lynnwood Times in February of 2020. To me, community newspapers affirm a sense of community by connecting people through the coverage of local stories and current events.

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