Spokane County commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay for an outside review of the prosecutor’s office.
Commissioners gave consultant David Bennett $5,000 to bring in a yet-to-be-identified Florida prosecutor to analyze Prosecutor Steve Tucker’s office.
Officials hope the outside expert will help the budget-battered office to stop setting so many criminal suspects free by failing to charge them within 72 hours.
Under reforms Bennett helped implement throughout the county criminal justice system, charging decisions were being made in 72 hours in most cases last year – until austerity measures began to take hold in November.
By December, a rate that had been as high as 64 percent in March had plummeted to 35 percent.
Since then, a $1 million budget cut has eliminated seven attorneys and five support workers, and the prosecutor’s office has focused on charging crimes of violence. That undercuts Bennett’s effort to reduce jail populations and recidivism by quickly getting drug and property-crime offenders into supervised programs.
Budget cuts also wiped out an essential new community corrections program to divert nonviolent offenders into alternative programs. However, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said in an interview Tuesday that he hopes to revive the program soon with a plan that is “much like trying to make a large pizza with medium-pizza ingredients.”
Also Tuesday, commissioners awarded Bennett a one-year, $87,500 extension of his contract. That’s in addition to the $5,000 to review the prosecutor’s office and $2,000 to help pay Bennett’s professional liability insurance. Bennett is based in Park City, Utah.