A final goodbye for the McNeil Island Corrections Center

A final goodbye for the McNeil Island Corrections Center »Play Video
STEILACOOM, Wash. -- Budget cuts mean the McNeil Island Corrections Center is closing for good, and now there's word that the sex offender unit on the island might be next.

The news is all surfacing as several hundred people returned to the island for a very emotional closing ceremony. It was a bitter-sweet moment for the more than 300 people who trekked to the island for one last time. Many are former employees; many grew up on this island.

"Looking out over the crowd I see so many friends, so much history," said Tim Taylor.

Taylor is one of those who grew up on McNeil and is now helping to shut it down. He says it's way more than just a prison..

"People say 'McNeil Island' and you look at people -- that's what makes the island up," he said.

One of those personalities is Lawrence Putnam, a former federal prison warden. McNeil Island began as a federal prison dating back to before Washington became a state. The state took over in 1981 with up to 1,700 inmates.

But today there is no talk of inmates, only of the people who lived and worked here.

"We as employees were not just employees, we were neighbors, it was a community," Putnam said.

The inmates are all but gone to other prisons and Legislators and the governor say it'll save taxpayers $9 million a year -- the cost of running an aging prison and operating the ferry boat to and from the island.

The question is: What about the neighboring special commitment center for sex offenders? The prison provided many of the services that kept the sex offender unit running. Now it's on its own.

"I have good reason to believe now that the beginnings of the planning of moving it off of the island within the next year has already begun," said State Senator Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood).

But nothing official yet -- the only thing official is the closing of the corrections center. The honorary flag was given to a very grateful former federal warden.

Many of the state employees who worked here either accepted transfers to other institutions or took early retirement.