Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and members of the No New Jail Coalition found a few points of agreement Wednesday.
They appeared together at a meeting of the Spokane chapter of Washington Women Lawyers that drew about 20 people to the downtown library.
Coalition spokeswoman Lucy Lennox and coalition member Breean Beggs agreed with Knezovich that more programs are needed to rehabilitate criminals and to keep them out of jail in the first place.
“The sheriff said it, and I’m going to say it,” Lennox said. “We’re now seeing three generations of the same family in jail. This isn’t working.”
Knezovich called for efforts, such as Head Start classes, to break the cycle by getting pre-schoolers interested in education. People with higher education rarely wind up in jail, he said.
Knezovich said he has done what his budget will allow to provide classes and programs designed to keep jail inmates from reoffending, but more is needed.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk, but I don’t see a lot of people putting their money where their mouth is on these kinds of issues,” he said.
For example, he said, Spokane County has the only jail in the state certified to provide mental health services, but funding from a one-tenth-percent county sales tax for mental health programs has declined steadily and now is listed as “to be determined.”
Knezovich said he needs about $1.8 million a year to provide all of the programs that are needed.
Lennox, Beggs and Knezovich were separated in large measure by disagreements over what should come first: better programs or better jails.
Knezovich said the Spokane County Jail is dangerously overcrowded and the Geiger Corrections Center is unsafe for corrections use.
“Even if I drop the jail population 10 percent, I’m still stuck with an overcrowded jail,” Knezovich said. “I’m stuck in this dilemma that I have an unsafe facility.”
Lennox insisted there can be no solution until the “40-year war on drugs” ends and the state abandons mandatory minimum sentences that increase jail populations. Still, she conceded that “significant” jail renovation is needed.
Civil rights attorney Beggs agreed. However, he fears that if jail beds are added, “then the judges who have been filling them for years, and county commissioners who have not been funding the programs, will find it too easy to warehouse people.”
“That’s the fear that keeps us from getting to common ground,” he said.
However, Beggs saw “an amazing opportunity that is created by the financial crisis driving people together.”
He said there are “a lot of things that we have in common, and it’s really about taking that commonality to the commissioners and the judges and some other ‘electeds’ and making those (points of agreement) concrete.”
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