I attended the public hearing on the new Spokane County jail on May 12. More than 50 citizens attended with an overwhelming majority opposing a new jail. The next day, the Associated Press reported, Seattle Mayor McGinn announced the city “would halt the process of looking for a new jail site and would be looking at safe alternatives to detention.”
Our county commissioners must not ignore this trend happening across the country. Incarceration rates are dropping for many reasons, including falling crime rates, alternative sentencing, government budgets, a failed drug war and recognition of mental health and addiction problems as public health issues.
The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated. If our collective conscience does not compel us to look at our approach to incarceration, maybe the $400 million cost for Phase I of the new jail will move us in that direction.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says Spokane’s jail is the second largest mental health institution in the state. We could spend a fraction of the cost of a new jail on mental health care outside the jail and alternative sentencing. It would be a win for our community and our pocketbooks.