Spokane County officials are trying to get the Washington State Department of Corrections to pay more to house their inmates booked on probation and parole violations in local detention facilities, in part by warning that they wouldn't book their inmates unless a new agreement was reached.
For now, that's not going to happen. After months of trying to negotiate a new contract with the Department of Corrections, Spokane County commissioners unanimously approved a one-month interim contract on New Year's Eve to give time for county and state officials to work out a new arrangement.
Here's the issue: On any given day, the Spokane County Jail houses around 30 inmates who are booked on Department of Corrections warrants for violating the terms of their probation or parole. And while it costs an estimated $134 per day to house an inmate, under the previous contract, the state only paid the county a daily rate of around $89 per inmate, according to Spokane County Detention Services Director Mike Sparber.
The costs borne by the county are also exacerbated because many of these inmates, Sparber says, go through opioid addiction withdrawals while in custody, and often stay in the jail for an extended period of time while local staff manage their withdrawals, adding to the jail's chronic crowding problems.
"We have a real concern about the well being and the health of the Department of Corrections offenders who we're seeing and some of the chronic opioid use that they have," Sparber tells the Inlander. "A lot of them are ending up in the treatment program, [detox] protocol."
The one-month extension came after months of trying to renegotiate the contract, county officials say. Sparber says he sent three separate letters to state officials since May of last year, and was in ongoing negotiations up until the Friday before the interim contract was approved by the county commissioners.
"We were at the ninth hour and I didn't want to put anybody at risk and we wanted to ensure that we had time to negotiate the contract and had a deadline to get it negotiated," says Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney. She adds that it's the county's intent to have the Department of Corrections cover the full cost of housing their inmates in county facilities.
Janelle Guthrie, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, says in a statement: "We are grateful for this opportunity to continue efforts to find a solution that addresses the identified challenges and protects community safety."
As for whether the county would again play hardball and potentially stop booking new Department of Corrections parole and probation violators, it depends on how negotiations over the next month go, Kuney says. If the state is bargaining in "good faith," she may support extending the contract to give more time for negotiating. If not, Kuney says, she'd support leaving the state hanging.
Sparber says that he received an email from Department of Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair on Jan. 2 expressing interest in getting some appointments to discuss a new contract set up "right away."
"I feel confident that we will get this worked out by the end of the month," Kuney says. "I want to get it done in one month."
In the event that the county actually opts to decline to book Department of Correction parole and probation violators, Sparber says that the jail would still accept state offenders who are booked on new charges.
"What we're talking about are those administrative warrants," he says. "Those are the ones that we would restrict and not take." ♦