Bernie Warner, head of the state Department of Corrections, is stepping down for a job in the private sector.
Bernie Warner, head of the state Department of Corrections (DOC), is stepping down.
Warner, who has led Corrections since July 2011, will be leaving on Oct. 16 to work for a private corrections and job-training company based in Salt Lake City, he announced Tuesday.
Warner will become vice president of corrections at Management & Training Corp. (MTC).
MTC is a private prison company that operates 27 facilities in eight states, housing 32,000 offenders, according to its website. The company provides probation services for nearly 40,000 people in the United Kingdom as well.
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Warner, 60, in an interview, called the DOC a “national leader” in corrections.
“I’m just really proud of the work that’s been done in this agency,” Warner said. “There’s an opportunity for me to join a company and implement the reforms we’ve implemented in Washington.”
DOC is now housing inmates out of state; it does not have contracts with MTC, Warner said.
Gov. Jay Inslee, in a statement, thanked Warner “for his leadership on one of the toughest issues facing state government.”
“In many ways he has made Washington a model for how to run a corrections department and always put the safety of staff and the public first in his mind,” Inslee said in his statement.
Inslee’s office has been aware for about a month that Warner was considering the job move. During that time, Inslee has urged Warner to stay, according to Inslee’s office.
Inslee’s office said an interim DOC secretary has not been selected.
Warner was hired as DOC’s prisons director in October 2010 and was promoted the following summer to secretary after Eldon Vail resigned.Warner took over DOC as it was reeling from the January 2011 slaying of Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl by inmate Byron Scherf at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
Warner praised DOC’s efforts to create safe prisons after Biendl’s slaying.
“That tragedy resulted in a lot of positive focus on what we can do to keep our facilities safe. We have two primary focuses: to have safe institutions and the other is to focus on offender change,” Warner said. “We have programs that have resulted in reductions in recidivism.”
One of the most pressing issues Warner faced as secretary was overcrowding in the state’s 12 prisons. In May, Warner signed a contract with The Geo Group, a private corporation that runs prisons around the world, to house up to 1,000 male Washington inmates at its prison in Michigan.
Under the contract, Geo Group is paid $60 per day per inmate. The company covers the cost of transporting inmates to Michigan.
Warner defended the decision to ship inmates out of state by saying, “What we don’t want to do is have unsafe conditions in our prisons and go down the path of crime.”
However, Warner faced criticism with the recent decision to transfer serial killer Gary L. Ridgway to a Colorado prison. Warner last week rescinded the move, saying Ridgway would be returned to a Washington state prison, in part because of that criticism.
Warner said his decision to leave the DOC had nothing to do with the transfer of Ridgway and the resulting criticism. He said he had been in talks with MTC for several months.
Warner started his corrections career in 1980 as a counselor in the segregation unit at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He later left and took corrections jobs in Arizona, Florida and California before returning to Washington in 2010 to be the prisons director.