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Determining Seattle's Municipal Jail Needs

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Seattle is participating in a regional process to possibly site and build a new municipal jail for cities located in north and east King County.
For more information, please visit the North/East Cities Municipal Jail Planning Web site:

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Site Selection
Jail Design Options
Community Input & Outreach
Questions / Comments
Additional Resources

Municipal Jail Design Options & Site Selection Factors

  • Seattle has two options when it comes to the design of a new municipal jail:
    • Low-rise – assumes Seattle needs at least a 7-acre site, located near a major arterial; and
    • High-rise – assumes Seattle needs one full downtown city block.
  • Land acquisition, construction costs and operating costs vary by design. Seattle has looked at jails across the country, as well as the two operated by King County, the downtown high-rise jail and the low-rise Regional Justice Center in Kent.  

  • Seattle hired a consultant who specializes in correctional facilities, Carter Goble Lee, to compare the difference in cost between a 440-bed low-rise jail on a 7-acre site and 440-bed high-rise jail on a 1-acre downtown site. The study found a high-rise facility requires 10.4 more staff; is $906,000 more costly to operate on an annual basis; and (without parking) costs $15 million more to construct. With parking costs considered, the high-rise facility could cost $23.5 million more than a low-rise jail. Factoring in land acquisition cost differences between a low- and high-rise facility adds another $6 million to $25 million in costs to the high-rise option. The two major variables that cause a high-rise development option to be more expensive than a low-rise are parking and land acquisition costs. The entire report is available online:
    City Of Seattle Comparative Study of the Cost of Low and High-Rise Jails, August 2008
    Note: The July 2008 report was updated in August 2008 for two reasons:
    • The consultant had assumed full court facilities in its initial square footage calculations. The City of Seattle is assuming partial court facilities (first arraignment court only), which is approximately 18,000 square feet less.  This square footage adjustment resulted in the reduction of the construction cost for both a high-rise and low-rise facility.
    • The consultant provided a more refined inflation rate factor, which fluctuates on a daily basis. The lower inflation rate increase resulted in a reduction of construction costs for both a high-rise and low-rise facility.

  • Site selection is an important part of the planning for a new municipal jail. Seattle must identify and acquire a site before the end of the year to keep the project on track.
  • Seattle initially reviewed 35 potential sites for a low-rise municipal jail. The list included sites that were:
    • Not located in residential zones;
    • Had easy access to arterials; and
    • Already several acres in size or could be assembled from adjacent properties.
  • From there, Seattle narrowed the list of 35 sites to 11 potential sites, using the following additional factors:

  • Site Size
  • Site Access
  • Site Configuration
  • Public Transportation
  • Compatibility with Surrounding Uses
  • Geotechnical Conditions
  • Environmental Conditions
  • Extent of Current Development
  • Business and Tenant Displacement
  • Acquisition Costs
  • Site Development Issues
  • As the City progresses with its site review process, these factors have been adjusted to reflect refinement of our facility needs based on ongoing studies. For example, the minimum site size was initially 5+ acres and the minimum site depth was 300 feet. After additional analysis, we concluded that 7+ acres would be required with a minimum dimension of 350 feet, resulting in further narrowing of site options.
  • Key factors in evaluating the 35 potential sites are summarized on page 3 of this pdf file. Sites not meeting the updated size and configuration requirements were considered "fatally flawed" and were eliminated from additional study.
  • Seattle is now conducting additional research and analysis, and seeking public input regarding these four sites. In addition, the City is also asking the public for its ideas on siting a municipal jail, including additional potential sites which have not yet been studied. Seattle welcomes an opportunity to review those suggestions using the factors applied to the 11 sites reviewed to date.
  • Many residents have suggested Seattle choose a municipal jail site away from public schools, which is difficult to do in a dense urban setting. As this map shows, it is difficult to find a location within the city that is not within a mile of a school.
  • Many residents have expressed concern about safety should a municipal jail be located in their vicinity. The City is looking at ways to safeguard the area around a jail, including services and transportation for released inmates, as well as other ways to ensure public safety. A U.S. Department of Justice study examined seven different jail sites in four states and found that there weren't any significant differences in crime rates between neighborhoods with jails and comparable neighborhoods without jails (and, in some cases, the crime rates were lower).
  • Regardless of where the municipal jail is ultimately built, Seattle is committed to building a well designed facility that will be a good neighbor.