Friday, January 10, 2014

Criminal Justice Commission offers final report on Spokane reforms

Posted By on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM

click to enlarge Jim McDevitt holds up the final report from the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission. - JACOB JONES
  • Jacob Jones
  • Jim McDevitt holds up the final report from the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission.

Complete with newly added recommendations, the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission today officially handed off its 61-page final report, " A Blueprint for Reform ," to city and county officials to launch efforts to restructure the Spokane area's law enforcement, courts, jails and support services.

Commission member Jim McDevitt told regional leaders the commission had spent hundreds of hours interviewing legal and justice experts both locally and nationally, in pursuit of best practices that could be integrated into the Spokane criminal justice system. The three-man commission took a a year to compile the report.

Many of the commission's recommendations reflect alternative justice strategies, shifting from an offense-based reactionary system to a more proactive "offender-based" system. New strategies focus on treatment and rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

"Jail is not always the answer," says McDevitt, a former federal prosecutor, adding, "Jail should be reserved for those who are a risk to themselves, a risk to others."

The commission first released a draft report of 43 justice reform recommendations in late October. They then collected public feedback and suggestions during a November hearing. Watch the video of that hearing. They used those public suggestions to develop the final report.

Much of the final report, 61 pages with another 228 pages of reference materials, reflects the same recommendations in the initial draft report. But commissioners did want to address five specific additions including domestic violence cases, victims services, early case resolution, mental health and specific critiques from justice consultant David Bennett.

You can read the commission's take on those five new issues, along with a prioritized list of 27 reform tasks they believe should be implemented within the next five years here:  Final Additions-Priority Table.pdf

Bennett, who has spent six years evaluating and consulting on Spokane's justice system, expressed several frustrations and concerns about the commission's draft report despite the fact he is thanked in the report for his contributions to the effort. In November, Bennett issued an eight-page memo outlining what he believed to be problems with the commission's tone and its opposition to combining the District and Municipal Courts.

In a news conference today, Spokane Mayor David Condon and County Commissioner Todd Mielke offered their appreciation for the commission's work and pledged to move forward with creating an implementation plan, a budget and a timeline for reform efforts.

"We are excited to move forward," Mielke says.

Condon says his administration is committed to improving the local system by strengthening partnerships and collaboration between departments.

"There's obviously an immense amount of work," he says, adding, "[But] some of this is happening already."

Officials announced Gloria Ochoa, city director of local government and multicultural affairs, along with county chief operating officer John Dickson, would spearhead the initial efforts.

As local leaders look to implement the new recommendations, McDevitt stresses the importance of establishing a new Regional Justice Commission to coordinate reforms across department boundaries. The final report states the group must have enough autonomy to make difficult changes and the will to reshape the system. Anything less will "doom us to the status quo."

McDevitt reinforced that warning today as he handed over the report to local officials.

"From this point forward," he says, "it's up to them."
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