Spokane County Commissioners and the city of Spokane appear to have reached a deal on keeping city inmates in the county jail system for now and working on reforms to reduce costs for criminals.
The commissioners on Tuesday approved a new agreement promising cost-saving reforms by Dec. 15, in time for budget reductions for 2013.
The deal now goes to Spokane City Hall for consideration by the mayor and City Council.
Its success hinges on moving ahead with reforms that will cut incarceration costs and reduce the number of repeat offenders returning to the system.
Drug court, mental health court, anger management courses, probation services, early case resolution, alternative sentencing and consolidation are among the options.
The city late last year told the county it wanted to transfer 50 or more inmates from the Spokane jail system to save more than $1 million this year.
The city has decided to postpone transfers for the remainder of 2012, the agreement says.
The city is responsible for inmates held on misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.
City Hall’s need to save money becomes more pressing in 2013, when Spokane could face a $10 million budget shortfall.
County officials are facing budget pressure of their own, particularly in the sheriff’s office.
“We simply cannot afford to keep doing business the way we have been doing it …” said Commissioner Mark Richard.
He said that to be successful, any reforms will need the support of independently elected judges as well as prosecutors and others in the criminal justice system.
The county is charging the city $130 a day to house its inmates, compared with the cut rate of $56 a day offered by Benton County’s facility in Kennewick.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the loss of inmate revenue from Spokane would put a $2 million hole in the county budget.
The county’s criminal justice consultant, who has been helping reform the system locally, said shipping inmates to Kennewick would remove them from support and treatment and would be a mistake in the long run.
A recent study for the county cites national statistics showing that for every dollar invested in mental health court services, seven dollars are saved. Drug courts that target treatment also bring savings, the consultant said.
One proposal would combine the county’s existing mental health and drug courts, saving as much as $1.5 million a year.
Warning about a potential crisis in keeping a lid on crime in the Spokane region, Knezovich earlier this month called for a ballot measure this fall to raise the criminal justice sales tax by 0.2 percent.