Overcrowded Jail Qualifies Spokane County For MacArthur Grant

May 27, 2015

Spokane County is one of 20 locales nationwide selected to receive a $150,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to reduce jail overcrowding. Four criminal justice reform agencies will send experts to Spokane to come up with ideas on how to reduce the use of jails, without compromising public safety.

File photo
Credit Paige Browning / Spokane Public Radio

The Spokane County jail was built for 462 inmates, but regularly houses as many as 675 people every day. The overflow of about 200 or more inmates is held at the Geiger Corrections Center.

Jackie Van Wormer, a WSU professor, is the acting criminal justice administrator for Spokane County. She says efforts already underway in the county, including what's known as the “Blueprint for Reform”, have given them a head start.

Van Wormer: “Because the Spokane regional justice council just launched last August, and will have been in operation for almost a year now, we were under further development in addition to the Blueprint. So, I think what this will do for us is sort of catapult this process, and to have this team of national experts on jail overcrowding and reform will help to move our initiative forward."

Some of the recent reforms of the justice system include a drug court, and special courts for veterans and the mentally ill. John McGrath, the Detention services director for the Sheriff’s office says future plans could involve a risk-based system to ensure public safety.

McGrath: “So even if a first time offender may have a more serious crime, they may not need to be in jail, based on their risk. It would people that need to be in jail, and those less likely to re-offend or be a public safety issue, back into the community.”

If the county is selected for a second round of funding, it would get up to $2-million to actually implement some of the concepts put together in this initial planning phase.