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Spokane Justice Task Force Hears Inmate Views About Incarceration

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

A Spokane community group is moving forward with developing recommendations for a new county criminal justice center. Those recommendations will include ideas for a new physical space to replace or supplement the current jail.

Spokane’s Justice Task Force includes county commissioners, representatives from the city of Spokane, from law enforcement and the court system and others involved in criminal justice.

Part of their process included a look at how current and former inmates view the system. On Monday, they learned about how 46 current and former Spokane County jail inmates viewed their experience with the system.

“We asked people about their experiences with law enforcement, with public defenders, with prosecutors," said Kaitlin Kall,  a program associate for the Vera Institute of Justice, which conducted the interviews. "And then we also had questions about their experiences in the jail, what programs do they have, what’s working, what’s their experience with mental health?”

Kall says the interviewees had a mixed view of the system, praising some of the people who worked to help them navigate it. But they also felt prosecutors at times sometimes overcharged defendants and forced them into plea deals as a way to keep cases moving through a crowded system.

Kall says they also had questions about where they could access services once they leave jail, where they could live, how they could get jobs, where they could get help for their substance abuse and mental health problems.

The Spokane task force has three subcommittees that are proposing changes to the system to make it more efficient and equitable.

“They have been developing strategies and they’re starting to firm up. Today was an opportunity for the three committees to come together, share out and see where there’s consensus," Kall said.

The task force is holding a public forum tonight to share what its members learned today. It will start at 6 at the West Central Community Center.

The task force is expected to offer recommendations for a new jail to the county commissioners later this year or early next.