This morning King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed making 150 beds in the King County Jail available to contracting cities through 2020, which would extend the recent agreement between the county and 20-plus cities to provide county beds for city use through 2016. It would also alleviate the need to build a new jail in northern or eastern King County.

Constantine says he is "pleased now to have a direct hand in assuring those communities that we have other options."

The extension is possible for a confluence of reasons: The county's recent inmate population drop has freed up space, says Constantine's office, which along with better regional contracting options, gives cities flexibility for where they can house their misdemeanor offenders. In addition, Constantine says that the new south county jail being built will also free up beds around the county. This contracting flexibility didn't exist when cities in northern and eastern King County started planning for a new regional municipal jail in 2008. Now, Constantine says, we'll be able to "make the best use of space in our existing jails" and allow cities and the county "time to explore every option for meeting the regions future need for jail beds."

In response, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is urging cities like Bellevue and Redmond to end their search for a new regional municipal jail site. “Going forward, we won’t be focused only on jail beds," McGinn says, adding that the focus should be on exploring "alternatives to detention.”

Constantine also proposed organizing a joint city-county planning group to monitor the region's long-term jail needs—i.e. keep track of available bed space and jail population growth—now that cities can contract out for more space. For instance, the county has explored the possibility of expanding the Maleng Regional Justice Center to hold as many as 450 additional inmates, if needed. But, Constantine says, "We need to work cooperatively with our city partners to see how this and other capacity options would meet the future needs of the county's and cities' jail populations."