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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
Online Comments
Frequently Asked Questions
Questions / Comments
Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the North/East Cities regional municipal jail effort

Frequently Asked Questions

Siting and Design


Community Outreach

1. Why did the City submit 7+ acre sites? Why not do a high-rise downtown? The City has been emphasizing density in all of its building.
While density is important, there are other factors to consider as well. Land acquisition, construction costs and operating costs vary by design between low-rise and high-rise options. Seattle hired Carter Goble Lee, a national consulting firm, to evaluate the cost differences between a high-rise facility and a low-rise facility.  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 construction and land acquisition costs.

A low-rise facility needs at least a 7-acre site. The study by Ricci Greene Associates estimated a low-rise building would be 188,000 square feet. This translates to roughly 4 acres. You then need to allow for parking, setback requirements, buffers, circulation (i.e., allowing vehicles to drive to/around the site), and drainage. These additional components require about 70 percent more space, which takes us to the 7-acre requirement. These are preliminary estimates and will be refined as the project moves forward.

2. The North/East Cities looked at sites as small as four acres. Now that Seattle is working with the other cities, did you go back and look for sites in the city smaller than seven acres?
The cities started identifying sites before the North/East Cities decided to work together to plan for a single regional facility. If they proceed separately, the other north and east cities would need a much smaller jail than the 640-bed jail that would serve the entire North/East Cities region, which is why some cities initially identified smaller sites.

Seattle did take a second look at sites smaller than 7 acres in the City to see if any would be feasible for a jail.  The City was not able to find any additional sites that appeared more feasible than the four it had initially identified for the following reasons:

  • The potential site did not meet the minimum dimensions of at least 350 feet;
  • The potential site did not meet configuration requirements; and/or
  • The potential site had significant economic activity that would be displaced. 

You may go to to see the initial list of 35 sites that the City reviewed or  to see 11 sites that citizens suggested which the City then reviewed.

3. According to the land use code, downtown is the only place with zoning that allows for a jail. How can you be considering sites which are not zoned for this purpose?
The City Council will need to take a number of actions in order to approve a site, including considering any necessary code changes.

4. How can the City have narrowed down to the four sites without considering how close they are to schools, parks, and residences? How did the City get from 35 sites to 11 to four to now 2?
We are considering many factors in the process of deciding on a site. We need to identify sites both big enough and shaped in a way that would accommodate a jail. After reviewing 35 sites, Seattle initially identified four possible candidate sites: two in North Seattle and two in South Seattle. Seattle then agreed to explore building a 640-bed regional municipal jail with other cities in north and east King County. As part of this effort, Seattle was asked to submit sites for further evaluation in the environmental impact study (EIS) process. To maintain geographic equity within the city, Seattle selected one site in north Seattle and one site in south Seattle. Of Seattle’s two north sites, the Armory Way site received a higher ranking, both in an assessment by the North/East Cities’ consultant Carter Gobel Lee (CGL), as well as in an assessment by City staff. Of Seattle’s two south sites, the Marginal Way site received a higher ranking, both in the CGL assessment, as well as in an assessment by City staff. Before a final choice is made, we will consider additional factors, including proximity to residences, parks, and schools, as well as other environmental impacts. It is not possible to completely isolate a jail in a city as densely populated as Seattle. As this map shows, it is difficult to find a location within the city that is not within a mile of a school. We welcome input from the neighborhoods on all of the siting factors we are considering.

5. The reason you give for eliminating some of the original 35 sites is “displacement of significant/economic activity.” What constitutes “significant/economic activity”?
“Significant/economic activity” refers to a variety of situations where displacement would have a substantial impact on businesses and employment.  Examples of such sites include those where there could be a loss of significant numbers of jobs, where the site is an integral part of a larger business operation, or where businesses or operations would be very difficult and/or costly to replace elsewhere.

6. The reason you give for eliminating some of the original 35 sites is “fatally flawed.” What does “fatally flawed” mean?
Some sites are not buildable because they are too small or have the wrong configuration (shape, access, etc.); these sites were marked as being “fatally flawed.”

7. How does the jail fit in to existing neighborhood plans, action agendas, or urban village designations?
No neighborhood considered a new jail when designing its plan. Should a Seattle site be selected, we will work with the community on how a new municipal jail might affect its plan.

8. How is your site selection process consistent with the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative?
The Fleets and Facilities Department pursues the principles of the Race and Social Justice Initiative in all of its work, including the Seattle Municipal Jail project.  We are committed to complying with the letter and spirit of all aspects of the Race and Social Justice Initiative and the broadest possible community outreach.

9. Is the City considering the impact this will have on property values and the tax base?
Studies have found that new jails in other cities across the country have had little impact on property values throughout the neighborhood nearest to the jail. A study by the Department of Justice looked at seven communities in four different states that had jails and compared them to comparable communities that did not have jails. The study found that sales prices for residential property did not significantly differ between the communities with jails and the communities without jails. The study also found that crime rates were either comparable or lower in communities that had a jail.

10. Is the City considering co-locating a police station with the jail? Or adding a police station? If a jail needs to be nearby, it would help if there was increased police presence.
Siting a police station is a separate process from finding a location for the municipal jail. Typically police presence increases in the vicinity of a jail whether police stations are added or not.


11. Will alternate sentencing programs be based at the jail, so that people doing day reporting would come to the neighborhood as well?
There are no plans to shift day reporting and other programs from their current downtown locations to the municipal jail site.

12. Will the jail provide City jobs with benefits? Or will operations be contracted out?
The City is focused on solving the problem of losing all of its jail beds when its contract with King County ends. We are exploring three options: partnering with cities located in north and east King County to build a regional municipal jail; collaborating with other cities and King County to provide additional jail beds for the region; and building a municipal jail that meets our needs. Questions about operations will depend on whether it is a Seattle-only facility or a regional facility. Once we know how Seattle’s municipal jail needs will be met, we can begin to consider operations. The City is open to a conversation with King County and other cities on operating the jail. The City will not use a private contractor to operate the jail.

Community Outreach

13. How will neighborhoods get to have a say in the selection of a site?
Part of what we’re doing right now is getting input from neighborhood groups so that we can better know their concerns and needs. The public will have many opportunities to provide feedback, ranging from public forums to sending comments via the North/East Cities’ municipal jail Web site. Once a preferred site is identified, the legislative body with jurisdiction over the location will begin its decision-making process. It is important to recognize, though, that a new municipal jail must be built somewhere. We have no choice on that question. Our challenge i6s to find the best location and to do what we can to lessen any impacts it might have. Regardless of where the municipal jail is ultimately built, the City is committed to building a well designed facility that will be a good neighbor.

14. What are you doing to involve communities of color in the public forums and in this process overall?
The City is committed to making sure that all its residents can participate in the process of deciding where a new jail might be located. We have translated documents into multiple languages, including the original news release announcing these forums. Those documents and other pertinent information have all been posted on the Municipal Jail Web site ( in multiple languages. We have also distributed announcements to ethnic media in their languages. The City’s Department of Neighborhoods has reached out to leaders in communities of color to ensure they know of the forums and that interpreters would be present at the forums in a number of widely spoken languages other than English.

15. Why aren’t elected City officials at the public forums?
The public forums are designed to be an opportunity for the community to provide input to the Fleets and Facilities Department on the pros and cons of various sites. The Department has asked for this input early to aid its study of various options and its recommendations. There will be additional opportunities for input and interaction with elected officials as the decision-making process proceeds, including City Council hearings should the jail be sited in Seattle.