Spokane County was chosen as one of 11 jurisdictions to receive funds from the MacArthur Foundation in the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to rethink how America uses its jails.
The grant, totaling $1.75 million, will help Spokane address the racial and ethnic disparities among its jail population, and safely reduce the number of inmates in overcrowded prisons. In addition, the City and County are committing $1.2 million to match these funds over the next 3 years. Last May, Spokane received an initial $150,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation for project planning, and this award of second round funding shows Spokane is on the right path for criminal justice reform.
Spokane County has an average daily jail population of around 965 inmates, and County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn told the Spokesman Review that 65% of inmates in Spokane County Jail are awaiting trial. Many of these people may be non-violent offenders who were simply too poor to post bail. The County plans to use funds from the grant to revise their Pre-Trail Services Department, including adopting a new risk assessment tool to determine who should be booked, and the hiring of eight Pre-Trial Services staff members and three mental health professionals to screen inmates brought into custody. These reforms will help divert non-violent offenders and mentally ill offenders to appropriate services to reduce recidivism, and keep beds open for violent offenders.
In addition, the grant will fund Implicit Bias and Institutional Racism training for county criminal justice departments, and implement a new Racial Equity Toolkit to address the alarming racial disparities in our jails. In 2014, the average length of stay in Spokane County Jails was 15 days. However, the average stay for Latino and Hispanics was 22 days; Native Americans 21 days; and African Americans 25 days.
The 11 jurisdictions chosen to receive funds through the Challenge will establish a network of model jurisdictions to inform and inspire local criminal justice reform across the US. It is exciting to see Spokane awarded an opportunity to be on the forefront of important social reforms, and we look forward to seeing how these reforms will impact the people of BHT region.