Inland Journal, Nov. 7, 2019: Election Wrap And Improving The Criminal Justice System

Nov 7, 2019

Three subcommittees for the Spokane Justice Task Force are developing recommendations for improving the county criminal justice system.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Today on Inland Journal, two items about making improvements to Spokane County’s criminal justice system. We’ll hear about expanding a well-received program that pairs police officers and mental health professionals on patrol. And a task force studying Spokane’s criminal justice system is coming to consensus on a variety of measures meant to ease the pressure on the overcrowded jail.

But first we talk with our Olympia correspondent about the results from Tuesday’s election, specifically the statewide measures, including the passage of another 30-dollar car tab initiative and an affirmative action referendum. Our correspondent Austin Jenkins joins us. Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network and the host of Inside Olympia on TVW.

In the debate about homelessness in the just completed Spokane city election, one program implemented recently in Spokane received near universal praise. That was the partnership between Frontier Behavioral Health and local law enforcement agencies. Using grant money from the state, Frontier and the agencies have developed five two-person law enforcement-counselor teams who go out together on police patrols or medical runs. The mental health professional has been trained to intervene in cases where there might be a mental health issue. The goal is to divert people who might normally be sent to jail to a more appropriate option, such as a treatment facility.

Now, Frontier has won a second grant to expand that program. This grant comes from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and it’s a little different from the first program.

Jan Tokumoto is the chief operating officer for Frontier Behavioral Health, which is working with Spokane law enforcement agencies to bring more mental health expertise to first responder calls.

Spokane’s Justice Task Force will make recommendations to the county commissioners within a few months about replacing or modifying the county jail. Its proposal will go beyond just the size and scope of the physical facility. The recommendations will also include reforms to the county’s criminal justice system, meant to reduce the number of people who would be routed to the jail. One particular emphasis is on getting people who have some sort of business with the court, whether it be a traffic ticket or a crime, to show up when they’re supposed to. People who skip out are often tracked down and jailed and kept in custody until they’re due in court again.

The task force met last week to review and refine its recommendations.

Maggie Yates is the administrator for the Spokane Law and Justice Council. She has been overseeing the review of the county criminal justice system and monitoring the three subcommittees that will make recommendations to the county commissioners.

You can read more about the three subcommittees and their recommendations at the Spokane Justice Task Force website.

Inland Journal is Spokane Public Radio’s public affairs radio program and podcast. You can subscribe at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play or hear it at the Spokane Public Radio website.