City/County say they’ll work together and seek funding to lower costs, improve efficiencies in Spokane County’s criminal justice system.
The following is a joint press release issued earlier this morning from the City and Spokane County:
City, County move ahead with work to lower criminal justice system costs, improve processes.
Spokane seeks Bloomberg grant to fund project.
Spokane Mayor David Condon and the Spokane County Commission today are detailing joint plans to review the community’s entire criminal justice system for opportunities for collaboration, coordination, and efficiencies.
The City and County are working toward realizing long-term savings, improved delivery of justice, and increased public safety, driving toward an ultimate goal of becoming the safest region of our size in the nation. The work will involve many stakeholders from inside and outside local government, from court officials to social service and mental health providers to public and private attorneys, among others.
City and county officials believe the work will lead to better outcomes in the justice system, including greater use of alternatives to incarceration, reduced recidivism, and offenders who are better prepared to reintegrate into the community and get jobs. At the same time, they are hopeful that enough savings can be generated to reduce daily incarceration rates at the jail and to help offset some of the costs to finance the development of a multi-jurisdictional community corrections facility that that could replace Geiger and include additional alternatives-to-incarceration programs.
“We have before us an immense project with a tremendous opportunity to benefit our citizens,” says Mayor Condon. “We started with a discussion around the costs of incarceration, but realized that was far too limiting. The jail is the last stop in the system. We can’t achieve the savings and community benefits we need if we never address what’s happening in other places in the system.”
“We recognize that local government can no longer afford to continue performing duplicative services,” says Commissioner Mark Richard, who has led efforts for years to enhance the jail and criminal justice systems. “Today, we’re saying we will first research and then implement efficiencies to achieve our goals of lower costs and improved delivery of justice.”
“The criminal justice system is a huge cost driver in both of our General Fund budgets,” says Commissioner Mielke. “As elected officials, we are committed to work together to get a result that benefits all of our community’s citizens.”
In July, the City and County adopted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) around criminal justice reforms and detention services. The MOU says the City and County will work together on a larger plan for improved services, savings and efficiencies. The first significant milestone in that MOU is an outline of the process that’s due to both jurisdictions by the end of the month.
Administrators from both the City and County have outlined a plan that will look at everything from jails to prosecution and public defense to courts and probation. They are proposing to the elected leaders that they jointly fund an executive-level position to manage the project and oversee its implementation.
The City and County are considering ways to pay for costs that arise through the project. The City took the lead on an application for funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. The program is designed to find and spread innovative local solutions to national problems.
“We understand that there is significant competition for those awards, but communities across the nation need to figure out how to do this better,” says City Administrator Theresa Sanders. “The process also allowed us to solidify our thinking and get the project rolling.”
The broader, more holistic approach to the community’s criminal justice system arose earlier this year out of a discussion on the issue of jail costs that was designed to accommodate an expected loss of City prisoners in the County jail system and to address inadequate incarceration facilities at Geiger Corrections Center.
Late last year, the City announced that to help control costs during tough budget times, it was seeking lower-cost options for incarcerating its misdemeanant prisoners. The City had been considering options as low as $56 a day for incarceration, compared to the $110 or so a day charged by the County jail. At the same time, the County announced that the loss of the City’s prisoners could force the closure of Geiger, which the County has identified as woefully inadequate and in need of replacement, as well as bring about skyrocketing detention rates for remaining inmates. The timing has been problematic because the County doesn’t have a replacement ready to go.
The City and the County have made strides this year in evaluating opportunities for collaboration and consolidation. They established a joint task force focused on opportunities that will control costs and provide better service to citizens, regardless of where they live in the County.
The joint task force is designed to take a business approach to evaluating opportunities, considering what is needed to operate a service efficiently and effectively for the benefit of Spokane citizens.