A Conversation About Criminal Justice With Commissioner Al French

Dec 27, 2018

We talk with Spokane County Commissioner Al French about criminal justice issues.
Credit Al French

The biggest chunk of the Spokane County budget, about three-fourths, goes for criminal justice. Your tax money pays to put deputies on the streets, for detectives who investigate crimes, for jailers and nurses to oversee inmates in the jail, for the prosecutors, public defenders and judges who try cases in the courts.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French says the criminal justice budget is relatively stable. Yet there are still significant challenges. The jail population is about double what Spokane’s 35-year-old facility was built to handle. In this segment, we talk with French about the debate over a new jail and other issues related to criminal justice.

On the push for a new jail in 2019: “I’m working with the city and we would like to have a proposal for a new facility before the community next year (2019). That’s the top priority for us, to have something to go before the voters if, in fact, we have to go for financing or is it a facility that we might be able to pay out of different resources just by rechanneling them. We don’t know that question yet, but we’re finding the answers. The other critical element of this is what is the right size for the new jail to be built? This is a very fundamental question that has to be asked and answered by this community and as I engage with stakeholders across the realm that want to deal with the criminal justice system. I’ve got some folks that are saying, ‘Just close the jail up, send everybody to programs and be done with it.’ And I’ve got other folks that are saying, ‘Build that jail.’ I’ve actually been in a room with 500 people chanting, ‘Build that jail.’ For them, it’s a matter of safety. So I’ve got the whole realm covered. Now how do I take that emotion and consolidate that into a number that the community can support?”

On the county's $1.75 million McArthur Foundation criminal justice grant that will soon expire: “I think what the McArthur Foundation grant has been able to accomplish for us is it compares us against our peers. And when we do that, we’re doing very well. But we still have a lot of work to do and so it’s helping us to identify those areas of weakness in the system and those areas of opportunities where we might be able to continue to work to reduce not only the number of inmates that we have in the jail, but also reduce the amount of time that somebody finds themselves engaged in the criminal justice system.”