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Jail Measure Could Appear On 2019 Spokane County Ballot

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Doug Nadvornick/SPR
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Spokane city voters will choose a new mayor  and city council president in 2019, as well as deciding three city council races.

The November 2019 ballot could also include a measure that would fund a new county jail. One county commissioner says he’s working with the city to develop a ballot measure to put before voters next year.

The Spokane County jail is about 35 years old. It was built to house about 460 inmates, but routinely handles a couple hundred more than that. Not only is the facility perpetually overcrowded, it’s also showing its age.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and others have called for a new jail, but the community hasn’t coalesced around a proposal. Commissioner Al French thinks, for a variety of reasons, this is the time to put new energy into the discussion. He says he’s working with city officials to develop a proposal. But, on this week’s Inland Journal, French admitted finding consensus may be difficult.

“I’ve got some folks that are saying, ‘Just close the jail up, send everybody to programs and be done with it.’ And then 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," French said.  "Now how do I take that emotion about their own safety and consolidate that into a number that the community can support?”

French says that are fundamental questions about a jail that have yet to be answered.  How big should it be? How many inmates should it house? What other services should the facility include? And how will the community pay for it?

French says part of the challenge will be to build support for a jail that will continue to be functional and properly sized for 30 or 40 years.