On July 28, 1992, Washington Governor Booth Gardner (1936-2013) officiates at a dedication ceremony for the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Franklin County. The new state prison facility, located at 1301 N Ephrata Avenue in Connell, 35 miles north of the Tri-Cities, opened two months earlier, on May 7, 1992, when the first 20 inmates arrived. An expansion of nearly 578,400 square feet in 2008 will make Coyote Ridge Corrections Center the largest state prison in Washington and the first prison to win a LEED certification for green and energy-saving practices.
Siting a Corrections Center
Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC) is located on a 40-acre site in the Franklin County farming town of Connell, about 35 miles north of the Tri-Cities. It was originally designed as a minimum-custody facility with two separate living units housing 200 inmates each. The living units were divided into three sections of two-person rooms and five sections of dormitory beds. Approximately 120 full-time employees worked at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center when it opened.
In April 1990, the Washington State Department of Corrections asked all Washington counties, cities, and Indian tribes to consider finding sites in their jurisdictions for a new prison. Thirty-six competitors responded by the deadline of April 30. After a review of prospective sites for a new prison, the state legislature approved the project plan, which would be managed by Jerry Minaker (b. 1946), named superintendent of the new facility. The Department of Corrections then formally announced to the town of Connell that its location was selected. A key consideration during the siting process was finding a community with minimal opposition to the plan. The proposed prison facility had been well-received by the Connell community.
A nine-member local Connell Citizen Advisory Council Committee under the direction of David Hart, a Connell business owner, was appointed to meet with Superintendent Minaker the first Monday of each month to discuss issues of mutual concerns. The advisory committee members were Connell residents and businesspeople: Dale C. Clark (1931-2019), North Franklin School District Superintendent; Police Chief David Cooper; David D. Hart (b. 1955), of the family-owned Michael Jay's Restaurant; Mayor Jim Klindworth (b. 1935); Lester Dougherty Jr. (1928-2000); Neal Smick (b. 1941); Joyce Bauermeister (b. 1930); Monica Pruett, of Lierman Business Services; and Nancy L. Weaver (1936-1997), Seafirst Bank branch manager.
Other locations that were finalists in the search for a new site were Airway Heights, Ritzville, Davenport, Bremerton, Toppenish, and Wahkiakum County. Three names for the new corrections center were proposed from 30 suggestions in a contest: the ultimate choice, Coyote Ridge, along with Palouse Junction (the original name of the town that became Connell) and Sulfur Creek.
Breaking Ground, Building, and First Inmates
Ground was broken on Thursday, October 10, 1991, for the new minimum-security prison, with Connell Mayor Jim Klindworth and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Superintendent Jerry Minaker celebrating the start of construction work. The facility was projected to be completed by August 18, 1992, at a cost of $15.6 million. The prison was built in two phases by Levernier Construction Inc., of Spokane. The first phase included buildings for inmates, administration offices, dining and kitchen services, and medical facilities. The second phase included education, recreation, and work areas for inmates. Nearly 100 staff positions were available to be filled.
The prison was built as a collection of one-story buildings on 40 acres surrounded by a wire fence located at 1301 N Ephrata Avenue on a hill just above downtown of Connell. The first 20 inmates arrived at Coyote Ridge on Thursday, May 7, 1992, at 10:15 a.m. On that hot dusty morning, the inmates stepped out of a Washington State Penitentiary van after riding 90 minutes from the penitentiary at Walla Walla to. The new inmates came from other state corrections facilities, including Walla Walla, Larch Camp near Vancouver, Olympic Camp at Forks, and the corrections center at Shelton. Each inmate was interviewed before being approved to move to the Coyote Ridge. All were interested and jumped at the chance to have an opportunity to assist in building the new prison.
The inmates ate their first meal at noon on tables and benches at an incomplete dining hall. Cheeseburgers, fries, vegetable soup, and carrot cake were served with punch, water, and coffee. Later that evening, their first dinner included chicken, rice pilaf, peas, lemon meringue pie, and beverages. The staff of cooks in the prison's kitchen were manager Lori Jean Telleria (1957-2014), Joan Lourds of Mesa, Geneva A. Meraz (b. 1947) of Connell, and Mark Campbell, a cook who transferred from Clallam Bay Corrections Center. All were enthusiastic about serving the inmates their first meals. The inmates were issued clothing, photos were taken, and an orientation about prison rules and regulations, which included information on inmate rights and responsibilities, was presented.
A little more than two months after the initial inmates arrived in May, a formal dedication ceremony was held on Tuesday, July 28, 1992, one month ahead of schedule. Two-hundred-fifty visitors from across Washington were in attendance at 10 a.m. on the warm summer day. Superintendent Jerry Minaker and Mayor Jim Klindworth again welcomed the crowd. The invocation prayer was delivered by Pastor Jack Bunting of the Connell Christian Center. Opening remarks were made by Chase Riveland (1942-2021), Secretary of the Department of Corrections. Governor Booth Gardner gave the primary dedication speech. He congratulated Connell on completion of the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center and expressed hope for rehabilitation to the inmates. Gardner told the gathering that the center offered a chance for prisoners to have productive lives after release:
"In America we give everyone a second chance. Everyone here will be within three years of release. That means everyone is within three years of a second chance" (Metcalf, "Gardner Dedicates ...").
Gardner went on to praise Connell leaders and residents, saying "If there was a Nobel Prize for caring, this community would receive one" (Metcalf, "Gardner Dedicates ..."). After the dedication ceremony, the facility was open for public tours and reception for the rest of the day.
Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
By the time of the dedication, the initial population of 20 inmates had increased to 200, with full capacity (which at the time was 400) expected by that September. Only inmates with less than three years left to serve and considered to be nonviolent and low risk for escape were housed at CRCC. The facility employed 115 people, and the Department of Corrections operated an academy for new corrections officers at Connell High School, with some 25 recruits enrolled.
The minimum-security facility emphasized inmate work programs, and contracted for work with the cities of Connell, Othello, and West Richland. Work agreements were made with Benton and Franklin counties, Grant County Fairgrounds, Adams County, the Department of Wildlife, and Washington State Parks Region IV.
The Department of Corrections estimated that 150 of Coyote Ridge's 400 inmates would participate in supervised off-site projects for public agencies and non-profit organizations. In addition, Correctional Industries had on-site industry programs with positions in textile manufacturing (inmate clothing, sheets, blankets, mattresses, and more), plastics manufacturing, and furniture restoration available for inmate employment. The remainder of inmate work was in institutional jobs such as custodial, food service, and maintenance positions.
Inmates were offered educational opportunities such as adult basic education, English as a second language, and GED programming provided by Columbia Basin College. Vocational programs such as upholstery, janitorial, culinary arts, and cement-finishing work were also offered. Group activities included Narcotics & Alcoholics Anonymous, substance abuse programs, a Corrections Clearinghouse program, religious activities, and recreation activities involving team sports and arts and crafts.
Coyote Ridge's inmate population was reported as 38 percent Hispanic, 38 percent Caucasian, 20 percent Black, 3 percent Native American, and 1 percent other. Inmates counted as Connell residents in the census, bringing additional tax money from the state.
Growing Larger and Moving Further
By 1999, prisoners were doing most of the cooking, new construction, and maintenance. They cut grass several times a week, painted the facility every three years, maintained gardens, and cultivated all their own plants. Inmates raised asparagus, lettuce, pears, beans, cantaloupes, onions, apples, watermelons, and potatoes to last from September to May. Any surplus food went to other corrections facilities near Spokane and to food banks.
Coyote Ridge inmates maintained all public parks within a 50-mile radius, worked on migrant housing, and maintained the grounds of Columbia Basin Community College and Grant County Fairgrounds. They installed sewers in Mattawa, rebuilt Connell's fire truck, and turned the old Connell City Hall into a public library.
An expansion project at Coyote Ridge began in June 2006 at a cost of $190 million. Remodeling was completed in October 2008, converting the center into a medium-security prison consisting of 578,400 square feet. There were 22 buildings, including housing units, medical facilities, administrative space, and Correctional Industries operations.
The facility was heralded as bold, modern, and green. A joint venture between construction, architecture, and engineering teams contributed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification two years later in 2010. CRCC became the first prison in the United States to receive LEED Gold certification for green building standards. The green building techniques and energy-saving measures incorporated in the 2008 construction included low-flow fixtures such as 1.5-gallons-per-minute showers. The laundry system reused heat and water, and the recycling program cut the center's garbage in half.
As of 2021, the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center was the largest state correctional facility in Washington, with a capacity of 2,468 inmates.