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Spokane region awarded $700,000 grant for criminal justice system

Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio

The Spokane region was awarded a $700,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation this week to invest in programs that reduce overincarceration in the Spokane County Jail.

The grant is a part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which is designed to stop the overuse of jails and eliminate racial inequities in the criminal justice system. This award brings the total the county has recieved from the foundation to about $4.5 million. 

The grant will pay for new, and existing programs that address the most common reasons people who are released are quickly booked back into jail.

Maggie Yates is the Law and Justice Administrator for Spokane County and oversees the grant programs. She said one of the most common reasons people are released and then re-arrested is missing court dates and a lack of support when they get out of jail.

“By investing in individuals and community services, we’re investing in someone’s stability out in the community so we’re seeing fewer new arrests for criminal activity as well, which could also land them back in jail.”

She said the grant will support a text service which allows public defenders to easily communicate with their clients, which has been in place for about two years now, and a cell phone program to help defendants attend virtual court. 

Yates said people who don’t have access to internet or a cellphone have struggled in the justice system during the pandemic, which has shifted to mostly virtual court for most of the last year and has limited in person services.

She said the grant program will also help people whose continued presence in the criminal justice system is connected to their lack of transportation, or their need for mental health and housing services.

She said the grant will pay for a case manager to connect with people who have committed low-level misdemeanor crimes and it will pay for a ride program.

She said the funds will also continue to pay for a public data dashboard and fund a new equity toolkit. The data dashboard is currently on the county’s website. That dashboard shows the current jail population, their racial makeup and whether they have been convicted of a crime, or are awaiting trial. The equity toolkit will provide resources to help leaders understand how their decisions could make the criminal justice system more, or less equitable. 

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