Nation/World

Jailhouse Blues: Crowding Sends Jail Over Budget County Facility Could Finish Year $1 Million In The Hole

The Spokane County Jail will finish the year up to $1 million over budget unless arrests slow unexpectedly or the Sheriff’s Department takes drastic measures to cut costs.

Built in 1986 to handle up to 460 inmates, the jail housed a daily average of 600 people last year. So far this year, the average is 650, with 700 inmates on the busiest days, Capt. Jim Hill told county commissioners Thursday.

If the average remains at 650, the jail will have a $1.04 million deficit by the end of the year, Hill said. The deficit will be about $300,000 if the average daily head count drops to 600 for the year.

It costs about $49 to feed, house and guard a prisoner each day.

To keep the number under control, Hill said he hopes to send more non-violent offenders to Geiger Corrections Center, a minimum-security prison on the West Plains.

“They can’t take everybody we have,” Hill said. “They can’t take murderers and stuff like that.”

Even people jailed for non-violent offenses often have violent backgrounds that prevent judges and corrections workers from sending them to Geiger, said Sheriff John Goldman.

Hill and Goldman asked commissioners for a $300,000 supplement to the jail’s $10.9 million budget. Otherwise, they said, they’ll have to make changes that would increase the risk of violence inside the jail.

The most drastic step - locking prisoners in their cells 23 hours a day - would save $320,000 a year, Hill said.

Keeping prisoners in their cells would require fewer jailers but could lead to inmate fights, court challenges and riots, Hill said.

Already, visiting hours and recreation time have been shortened, and the jail is “locked down” on weekends and holidays.

“All these things that have been done increase the tension,” said Hill. “There is a boiling point.”

Commissioners were sympathetic but said they need time to consider the funding request.

Noting that Goldman had stayed within his budget last year, Commissioner Phil Harris said he is likely to grant the request.

Goldman said the public’s demand that criminals be given heavier sentences is adding to the overcrowding. Stiffer drunken-driving laws, for instance, mean more drunks are sent to jail and stay there longer.

Goldman said the county eventually will need more cells, probably at a second jail.

The county also is struggling to deal with overcrowding at its Juvenile Detention Center.

Before their meeting with Goldman and Hill, commissioners met Thursday with judges urging a 24-cell expansion of the Juvenile Detention Center.

An architectural study places the cost of expansion at about $1.8 million, up from earlier estimates of $1 million. The expansion would add beds for 36 juvenile offenders.

In addition, Spokane County is one of nine Eastern Washington counties building a $5.5 million juvenile detention center at Medical Lake. That facility is to have 52 beds, with at least five of them reserved for Spokane County.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: County jail population rising



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