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Panel explains its approach to criminal justice reform

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 20, 2013

A hundred people turned out on Thursday to hear emerging plans for reform of Spokane’s criminal justice system.

They were law officers, prosecutors, judges, defenders, attorneys and others involved in the multimillion dollar system of keeping crime in check.

Last fall, city and county officials announced the creation of a Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission composed of three respected experts who have spent their careers working in the system.

The commissioners outlined their next 10 months of work, which will include listening to the public, leading to what they said will be sweeping recommendations for reform.

The effort comes amid public clamor for accountability in law enforcement and mounting fiscal pressures from the cost of arresting, trying, treating or jailing offenders.

Mayor David Condon said he is looking for collaboration among the various offices and agencies that deliver criminal justice. He wants to cut enforcement and jail costs, reduce repeat crime and move offenders back into the community while increasing safety for citizens.

“I think we can achieve these realities,” Condon said.

Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke said criminal justice at the county level, which includes the sheriff, jails, courts and probation, takes up 70 percent of the county budget. Currently, the county spends $140 million a year on general services.

He said the county has been working in recent years with a consultant who has been helping the county find ways to cut costs and improve results of the system. One of the reforms is early case resolution that speeds up court dates and reduces backlogs.

The earlier work will be incorporated into the commission’s initial fact-finding, said retired Spokane County Superior Court Judge James Murphy, one of the three commissioners.

The commission is gathering information on “best practices” from places such as Phoenix and Yakima, which are working on similar issues.

“There are smarter ways to do what we do,” said fellow Commissioner James McDevitt, former U.S. attorney in Spokane.

The third commissioner is longtime criminal attorney Phillip “Dutch” Wetzel.

Murphy said goals include reduced duplication of work, investing in diversion programs and recommending a plan for new facilities.

That could include replacement of Geiger Corrections Center and attention to the mental health system.

Commissioners intend to start taking testimony in March from all agencies that fall under the commission’s assignment, including smaller cities in Spokane County.

By early summer, they will issue draft recommendations. Crime prevention will be among them.

Public testimony is likely in August and September with final recommendations expected in November.



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