Spokane County commissioners to run jails

February 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:52 a.m.

On June 1 the Spokane County Commission will take control of the Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center as part of a plan to reform local criminal justice.

The move, which was approved by a unanimous vote of commissioners Wednesday, takes away operation of the two lockups from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and places it under the commissioners, a system that is used in other counties in Washington.

Knezovich said he brought the idea to commissioners last May as a way to broaden a community conversation on how to better handle offenders and potentially reduce costs.

Incarceration, the sheriff said, “is not one elected official’s issue. It’s the entire community’s issue.”

A Detention Services Policy Board will be created with members from cities, the county, judges and law enforcement.

The 230 union-represented employees within the jail system will continue in their jobs, as will their managers. Their salaries, benefits and jobs will not change. Corrections officers will receive new uniforms.

Several union corrections officers attended Wednesday’s vote. A spokesman said earlier they were not opposed to the change.

Commissioner Todd Mielke told them he supported their work and is looking forward to hearing from them on any future changes.

“I want staff integrated in all these discussions and decisions,” he said.

The change comes as the newly formed Spokane County Regional Criminal Justice Commission begins deliberations on potential reforms, including alternatives to sentencing, expanded treatment programs and improved probation services.

The idea is to save money by getting those caught up in the system to turn around their lives.

The commission is studying reforms around the country and will be listening to many stakeholders locally before making recommendations this fall.

One of the impediments to reform is the maze of jurisdictions, elected officials, courts, prosecutors, defenders and treatment providers, commissioners said.

The cost of housing prisoners and overcrowding at the county’s jail facilities is an ongoing issue.

The new corrections policy board should bring a wider range of public officials into the discussion, Knezovich said.

Criminal justice and law enforcement take 70 percent of the county’s $140 million general tax fund. A big share of that money goes for handling felony cases committed countywide.

The city of Spokane pays about $5 million a year for the county to hold its non-felony prisoners, on top of its costs for police, the city prosecutor, public defenders and the municipal court system.

Spokane Valley operates its law enforcement and justice system under contract with the county at a cost of more than $20 million this year.

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