Eight months after a blue ribbon panel submitted 58 pages of recommendations for criminal justice reforms in Spokane County, the leaders who are responsible for implementing the reforms went to work on Tuesday evening.
The new Spokane County Law and Justice Council convened its first meeting after months of debate over who should sit on what is now an 18-member panel.
The council is taking the lead on implementing recommendations submitted last January by the three-member Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission in its Blueprint for Reform.
The proposed reforms revolve around research that shows what works for reducing crime and saving money on cops, courts and jail.
“It’s up to you to make decisions on what (recommendations) to follow,” retired Superior Court Judge James Murphy told the new council in a meeting on the campus of WSU Spokane.
County Commissioner Todd Mielke, who is chairing the law and justice council, said the delayed start stemmed from difficulty of getting agreement on who should sit on the council and how to fit a meeting time into everyone’s schedule.
It also shows how daunting the task can be to find wide agreement on improving the system and reducing Spokane’s high crime rate.
During Tuesday’s meeting, council members appeared to agree that a key component is a data-driven system to assess offenders for their risks to the community and their potential for treatment, including drug rehabilitation.
The panel is composed of elected officials, including judges, prosecuting attorney, the sheriff and Spokane mayor, as well as heads of departments that run the broader system, including the state corrections department.
Jackie van Wormer, an expert in criminal justice reform and assistant WSU professor, was hired by the county on a one-year contract to lead the initial work.
Mielke said citizens can volunteer to participate in any of five subcommittees that will guide the initial stages of reform.
The Smart Justice coalition, which has been promoting reforms, said in a letter to county commissioners the council should include people who have been arrested or convicted. The five subcommittees will focus on goals and objectives; data; technology; facilities; and a risk and needs assessment system.
Mielke and other council members asked for citizen volunteers for those subcommittees.
To sign up for a subcommittee, contact Karen Westberg at KWestberg@Spokanecounty.org. For a copy of the Blueprint for Reform, go to spokanecounty.org/srcjc/#.