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Thinking Outside the Cell 

by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & aced with a fragmented, inefficient justice system and an overcrowded jail system that will, within five years, lose half its capacity (due to the closing of the Geiger facility on the West Plains), a new Criminal Justice Council met for the first time last week to start changing how Spokane County deals with its lawbreakers. It's forming subcommittees to address: expanding the role of pretrial services, resolving cases sooner, consolidating city and county resources and establishing a corrections center that effectively re-integrates offenders into the community.

"I guess we could just build a mega-jail and keep doing business the way we've been doing it, but nobody wants that," says Judge Maryann Moreno, presiding judge of the Superior Court and chair of the new council. "We want to make sure the system is moving as smoothly as possible, fix some things that need tweaking and hopefully keep the cost and size of the new jail down."

The creation of the council was the first of a list of recommendations given to the county in February by David Bennett of Bennett Consulting, a criminal justice systems analyst. He'll be back in Spokane late in April to give final recommendations to the new council's subcommittees about how and where to proceed.

According to Bennett, the office of pretrial services needs to be expanded to more closely monitor defendants awaiting trial and ensure that every defendant is accurately screened for risk and eligibility for alternate programs (like drug court and mental health court), aware of their trial dates and hooked up with informed attorneys. High "failure to appear" rates are resulting in additional warrants and arrests that clog both the jail and the courts.

"To me, it's not only the level of justice we're serving, but the waste of taxpayer dollars," says County Commissioner Mark Richard on the need for consolidation. "There's a high level of interest from our city partners as to the inefficiency caused by redundancy of services," he says. Having separate city and county agencies for prosecution, defense and probation services leads to confusion and delays, he says.

Richard says that he took office with a "tough on crime" mentality that he still holds, but touring the country to examine other criminal justice systems led to a "maturation process" in his thinking. The county's new jail will need to have a 200- to 300-bed "community corrections center," he says, where some inmates can be stepped-down to less restrictive programs geared toward rehabilitation and integration back into the workforce.

"Locking people up sounds tough on crime, but it's really not," he says. "The 'tough' part that's missing is swift, consistent, clear delivery of justice as well as working with those who are workable to get them back as productive members of the community.

"Where you have one in a hundred in the country incarcerated and about a 75 percent recidivism rate in Spokane County," he says, "it's hard for anyone to tell me we are doing it right."
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