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County jail population increasing again

Thirty inmates released Monday to ease crowding

Spokane County jail populations have been on the rise in recent months, reversing a downward trend dating to 2010.

Capt. John McGrath, jail commander, said this week that the lockup has been on critical status since January, booking only the most serious offenders along with those who cannot be legally released when they are arrested.

On Monday, the jail roster rose to 950 inmates at the jail and Geiger Corrections Center. Thirty were released to ease the crowding.

McGrath said the population could reach 1,000 later this spring when jails historically peak each year.

The swelling numbers come as Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announced this week that the city of Spokane and the county together saved $2 million on jail costs in 2012. Those savings were a reflection of a lower census at the jail and Geiger.

McGrath said one option is to open a new wing at Geiger for overflow from the jail downtown at a cost of $800,000.

County commissioners told McGrath they are still hoping alternatives to sentencing and other criminal justice reforms will help hold down the jail population.

The city and the county have launched a thorough examination of reforms through a three-member Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission, which expects to issue recommendations in November.

County commissioners have voted to take administrative control of detention services, including the jail and Geiger, starting on June 1 to enhance their ability to enact changes and cost-saving measures.

The jail to the north of the Courthouse was originally designed for 462 inmates and was refitted to house 600. That number has gone to 700 inmates through overcrowded conditions.

Population peaked in 2008 at 1,126 inmates and then declined into 2010 even though the number of people arrested remained steady.

Overflow from the main jail and inmates serving non-prison sentences end up at Geiger.

The fluctuating jail population comes during a period when officials are considering options for modernizing the system with a new facility on the West Plains. The county is studying site alternatives under a state-mandated land analysis.

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