Spokane County would save at least $87,000 a year by expanding its existing juvenile jail instead of leasing more beds at a regional center that opens next year, a Seattle consultant says.
The report by Christopher Murray & Associates, paid for by a $3,000 state grant, raises questions about the county’s extended involvement in Martin Hall.
Martin Hall will open next spring under private management in a renovated building on the Eastern State Hospital campus at Medical Lake. The Legislature has loaned a consortium of nine Eastern Washington counties the $3 million in renovation costs.
While plans call for Martin Hall to eventually contain 56 beds, only 26 have been purchased so far by the nine counties. Spokane County is on the hook for five beds for an estimated $135,000 a year.
The Murray report calls Martin Hall an “excellent solution” to the long-standing shortage of juvenile beds in rural Eastern Washington.
But it states that Spokane County should not buy more beds at Martin Hall when it can enlarge its own juvenile jail by 24 beds for $1.2 million or less in construction costs. Even when those costs are factored in, the daily expense to the county would be $63 per bed - $10 a day cheaper than at Martin Hall, the report states.
“I believe the annual savings to Spokane County taxpayers is at least $87,000 a year,” Murray wrote last month.
Spokane County Commission Chairman Phil Harris, an ardent supporter of Martin Hall, said he had not analyzed Murray’s numbers yet but that some of them didn’t jibe. He didn’t elaborate.
Still, Harris said he would consider with an open mind a proposal by Tom Davis, director of Spokane County juvenile court services, to expand his existing 55-bed facility west of the courthouse.
“I think it shows that Spokane County can build and operate very cost-effectively,” Davis said of the report, “and that Martin Hall provides a good solution for the surrounding counties but not necessarily the best solution for Spokane County.”
The counties of Stevens, Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Adams, Whitman, Asotin and Douglas don’t have juvenile jails and in the past have contracted with Spokane County. But rising juvenile crime has left the county facility crowded and unable to take in youths from the other counties.
The Murray report cautions Spokane County against committing to more beds at Martin Hall because it already is responsible for a larger portion of the costs than the eight other counties, while having only one of nine votes on the facility’s board of directors.
The report also notes that Martin Hall is a “bare-bones” program that would focus on punishment instead of rehabilitation.
Spokane County’s Superior Court judges put a premium on rehabilitation, saying incarceration of youthful offenders is their “last” and best chance of going straight, the report states.
During interviews with Murray, unnamed Martin Hall officials said the regional jail will be “tough” and “is not going to be a pleasant place.”
Murray said Spokane County judges find the rhetoric troubling.
Spokane County Superior Court judges Robert Austin and James Murphy said they will ask county commissioners immediately to begin steps to enlarge the current site.
“There is a need for additional beds,” Murphy said. “We don’t wish those beds to be at Martin Hall.”