Criminal Justice

Our current justice system relies heavily on jail, the most expensive and least effective way to reduce crime and make the community safer. In Spokane County, approximately 70% of our budget goes towards this system. Jail has a disproportionate impact on people of color, people with mental illness, and people who are low-income or indigent. Only 13% of the people in jail are serving a sentence, many others are there for non-violent offenses.

The Center for Justice and our Smart Justice coalition partners are working together to create a more fair, just and effective regional criminal justice system. Using evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, in treatment and support services, can break the cycle of crime, save taxpayer’s money, and make our community safer. Our goal is to create a criminal justice system in Spokane that looks at offenders as individuals and matches them with interventions that evidence shows: reduce recidivism, respond to victims’ needs, make the community safer, and are a smart investment of taxpayer dollars.

In order to reform Spokane’s criminal justice system, Center for Justice works with a broad and diverse coalition of community members and organizations. The bedrock of these community conversations is a solid core of research. This collection of white papers highlights the work of other cities to successfully reduce jail populations — all the while saving money and decreasing crime. To expound upon and share this research, we hosted the Smart Justice Symposium, a 100-person forum for experts and community members to discuss evidence-based alternatives to incarceration. The Smart Justice Symposium inspired the city and county to conduct a comprehensive audit of Spokane’s criminal justice system, enacting a Blueprint for Reform. Together, we believe we can advance a humane and smart approach to criminal justice.




In Washington State, a person’s driver’s license can be suspended indefinitely for failure to pay traffic fines. Tickets often get sent to a collection agency accruing interest and fees. Many can’t afford to pay the fines, yet are nevertheless compelled to keep driving in order to earn a living. When people drive with a suspended license, they can be charged and convicted of the crime of Driving While License Suspended 3 (DWLS 3) under current law. This crime is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. DWLS 3 makes up one-third of the misdemeanor cases filed statewide.

The current system of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines disproportionately affects the poor and contributes to the cycle of poverty, unemployment, and incarceration. To break this cycle, we offer a Relicensing Program that helps participantspull their unpaid tickets out of collection agencies, consolidate them into one reasonable monthly payments per court, eliminate interest and fees, and drive legally while making payments. Additionally, a mandatory Rules of the Road and Fundamental Budgeting class provides tools for long-term success. CFJ’s Relicensing Program changes lives by giving people an opportunity to stop the cycle of debt, incarceration, and unemployment caused by indefinite license suspension.



Housing Justice

Along with food, water, and clothing, shelter is a basic human need. At the Center for Justice our housing work is about more than just preventing homelessness – we believe that everyone should have access to a safe, healthy, affordable home. The Center for Justice works locally and statewide to ensure this reality for everyone, respecting the needs of those experiencing houselessness.

Center for Justice attorneys and advocates work with low-income clients to address problems with housing discrimination, unsafe/unhealthy housing conditions, public housing benefits, and other landlord-tenant issues.

More information about policy issues

Washington Low Income Housing Alliance

Washington Appleseed

National Low Income Housing Coalition



Spokane Riverkeeper

“It’s your river, we protect it.” When our waterways aren’t healthy, it affects the entire community. Spokane Riverkeeper is a vigilant guardian and advocate for the Spokane River and its watershed. The Spokane Riverkeeper works to protect the river’s ecological health, its aesthetic integrity and the public uses of the river for future generations of our community. Our goal is a fishable and swimmable Spokane River. The Spokane River is such a cherished asset to all citizens of this community, that equitable use is a matter of justice.  As a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance movement, Riverkeeper’s first priority is to defend the river against pollution and hold polluters accountable. 

The Spokane Riverkeeper was formed in 2009 by a small group of lawyers fed up with polluters abusing the Spokane River.  They recognized the hands on approach that values a presence on the river and uncompromising advocacy.  Our pioneering work stopped millions of gallons of raw sewage from entering the river each year and created a pioneering effort to keep toxic pollution out of the River.  We quickly expanded by hiring advocates and scientists, who expanded our legal work to protect the river.    

To learn more, visit the Spokane Riverkeeper website