An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Spokane County Commissioners vote to put new jail on ballot

The Spokane County Jail, which is located behind the county courthouse.
Rebecca White
The Spokane County Jail, which is located behind the county courthouse.

The Spokane County Commissioners have voted to hold an election to fund a new jail.

The downtown Spokane County Jail was built for around 460 inmates in the 1980s, but that facility along with the smaller Geiger facility near Airway Heights has held more than double that population in the last few years.

As the facility has aged and the county has struggled to hire and retain adequate workers to staff it, people have died of suicide, overdose and other medical emergencies.

During the Tuesday meeting, Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns argued a new jail will be safer for workers and inmates.

“There are things that we want to do, but we need space to do it,” Kerns said. “With a new facility, we're going to be able to completely reimagine our criminal justice system. .If we have room in a new facility that will allow us to offer programs from GED's, to recreational therapies to job training.”

The jail would be paid for through a sales tax on the ballot next November. Spokane County Commissioner Al French argued sales tax, about 0.2 percent, is more equitable for taxpayers than a new property tax.

"Sales taxes are charged for restaurants, for hotels, for retail opportunities," French said. "As folks visit this community, they will not only be able to enjoy a safe community, but they will also be participants in having to cover the costs of making this community safe. I think it’s a fairer tax than burdening our property taxpayers with it."

Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney was traveling on county business and did not vote on the jail ballot measure.

Critics, including two newly elected commissioners, Democrats Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan, who will not be sworn into office until January, have opposed building a new jail right now. They argue the county should be focused on reducing dependence on incarceration.

Racial justice advocates have also long opposed it, saying a new facility won’t fix disparities and other problems that have led to an overfilled jail.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.