Spokane County gets $1.9 million more in grant funding for criminal justice reform

click to enlarge Spokane County gets $1.9 million more in grant funding for criminal justice reform
Spokane County Jail

The MacArthur Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit, has given Spokane County an additional $1.9 million in grant money to implement criminal justice reform projects.

The additional funding is the third round in a series of grants dating back to to 2015, when the county first received money to help address the problem of chronic inmate overcrowding in the Spokane County jail. The grant is part of the foundation's "Safety and Justice Challenge" program, which gives money to local governments attempting criminal justice reform. Roughly 50 jurisdictions across the country — including Spokane — have received funding through the initiative.

"The foundation was really excited about both the progress of where we're at and also the promise of reforms," Maggie Yates, Spokane County's criminal justice administrator, tells the Inlander.

Of the $1.9 million, the vast majority will be spent on six categories of reform efforts. These include funding the Public Safety Assessment (the new computer algorithm that the county is pursuing to help judges determine if defendants should be released pretrial), shortening case processing times, hiring more staff in the county pretrial services department, improving data collection and constructing an online dashboard to track metrics in the regional criminal justice system, and supporting a county prefiling diversion pilot project and its mental health diversion program.

"Roughly $1.75 million is earmarked for reforms that we'll be implementing across the city and the county," Yates says. "Those will all be rolled out over the course of the two-year grant."

Additionally, a small portion of the grant will also go towards "community engagement," such as the hiring and training of individuals with prior experience in the criminal justice system to help "stabilize"others currently entangled in the courts by connecting them to housing and drug treatment services, or simply navigate the system.

In previous years, the grant funding paid for projects such as additional staff at the county's pretrial services department, as well as a custom risk assessment tool built from scratch. (The original stab at the latter project backfired due to technical programs, and the county is now working on implementing a different version.)

Overshadowing the new grant funding is the fact that the jail population hasn't budged since the MacArthur Foundation first started funneling money to the county. Over the past several years, the average daily inmate population across both of the county's correctional facilities — the jail and Geiger Corrections Center near the airport — has stubbornly hovered around 950, according to county data.

The county hopes to reduce the inmate population by 15 percent under the new grant, according to Yates.

"The target population that we identified is ambitious, yes, but it's also necessary for our community," Yates says when asked if she thinks that the goal is realistic given that the inmate population is largely stagnant. "We are working diligently within the system and with our community leaders to make sure that we are making strides toward that target population over the course of the grant."

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Josh Kelety

As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.