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Condon, Mielke back Regional Justice Commission proposal

Sat., Jan. 11, 2014

Local officials are backing a key recommendation coming out of a yearlong study of the region’s criminal justice system: creating a Regional Justice Commission with a paid, professional administrator to oversee reforms.

Spokane Mayor David Condon and Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke on Friday said they are moving ahead with criminal justice reforms recommended by the experts who conducted the study.

Mielke said he wants the new commission to have budgetary power so future spending can be directed toward areas showing results.

The goal is to contain the cost of criminal justice while offering offenders pathways to turn their lives around.

The recommendations are outlined in a 60-page report from a three-member Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission. The report was submitted to the mayor and Mielke on Friday.

Commission member Jim McDevitt, former U.S. attorney in Spokane, said the system should be geared toward changing behavior through alternatives to incarceration where appropriate.

“Jail is not always the answer,” McDevitt said.

McDevitt and the other two commissioners – retired Judge James Murphy and attorney Phillip “Dutch” Wetzel – said the cornerstone of reform is the new justice commission with a paid administrator.

The commission could order reforms and hold public officials accountable.

“In short, the RJC must be free from the politics that now hamper progress,” the report said. “Autonomy is critical, but must be balanced against the constitutional independence of the courts.”

Failure to create a commission “will doom us to the status quo,” the report said.

In addition, the report calls for re-establishing a law and justice coordinating committee of officials within the system to provide advice and research.

More than 40 recommendations are in the report.

McDevitt said there are already “pockets of excellence” where reforms are showing results.

Condon and Mielke said they are now laying groundwork for the changes.

Gloria Ochoa, the city’s director of local government and multicultural affairs, and John Dickson, the county’s chief operating officer, are being assigned to lead the efforts at City Hall and the Courthouse.

“There is obviously an immense amount of work,” Condon said.

The Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins of the Smart Justice coalition said that rather than warehousing people who are not dangerous, officials should “spend our tax dollars on proven programs that are fiscally responsible, reduce recidivism and create a thriving and healthy community.”

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